There were more people out walking Sunday afternoon and it wasn’t just because of the nice weather.
The 31st annual Church World Service CROP Walk wound from Emmanuel Friedens Church through downtown Schenectady with an estimated 500 walkers raising an expected $50,000 to fight world hunger.
“We walk because the needy overseas walk miles every day for food and water,” said Schenectady Inner City Mission Executive Director the Rev. Phillip Grigsby. “I’ve seen a 5-year-old in Sierra Leone carry a five-gallon bucket for miles just so his family could have clean water.”
Some participants, however, were too exuberant to stick to a walking pace.
“We just wanted to help out the poor,” Christopher Rober, 21, said. “We knew if we ran, we would be doing that.”
Rober, and Michael Akinwale, 14, friends from Trinity Lutheran church, ran the full 3.2 miles together. Rober edged ahead at the very end, but they were driven by more than competition.
“I’m from Africa and I know what it’s like back there,” said Akinwale, who came from Nigeria in 2005. “There’s a lot of murder, poverty. God brought us out of there.”
The two friends were also motivated by Ottavio LaPiccolo, an experienced runner with Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church, who followed at a distance that prompted Rober and Akinwale on to greater speed.
“I didn’t want to overtake,” he said. “The youth are the future.”
LaPiccolo’s inspiration came from a day nearly 50 years ago in his childhood home of Sicily.
“My mother and I were coming out of the bakery,” he said. “She had spent the last of our money on a loaf of bread when a beggar came up to us. There were a lot of beggars at the time. She didn’t have any money, but she had a bag of cherries, so she reached in and gave him a handful.”
LaPiccolo came to the United Sates when he was 17. He’s participated in the CROP Walk since 1987, when he was playing tennis at the Schenectady High School and saw the walkers.
“My mother always said to give even when you didn’t have much,” he said. “That’s always stuck in my head.”
At the start of the walk, staff handed out PVC rings, not much larger than the circle made by a thumb and forefinger, strung on yarn necklaces as a reminder of the hunger faced around the world.
“In places that might not have weight scales, they measure nutrition with these rings,” Grigsby said. “If it fits past the elbow of a 5-year-old, he won’t live past his sixth birthday.”
CROP began as an offshoot of Church World Service after World War II to feed starving victims of the shattered European infrastructure. Since then, the organization has expanded its efforts to needy countries around the world.
Funds from CROP Walks throughout the country help meet the immediate needs of the hungry and provide forward-looking services such as removing land mines from farm fields in war-torn counties, vocational training, clean water supply, and refugee relocation, according to Douglas Anderson, regional director of Church World Service.
Sunday’s CROP Walk was coordinated jointly by SICM and the Church World Service. Of the $50,000 goal, 25 percent will go to local food pantries.
Schenectady is just one area city to hold a CROP Walk. The largest takes place in Albany, but it’s not the size that matters.
“No walk is too small. No donation is too small,” Anderson said. “In fact, no walker is too small. I’ve seen little girls raise thousands of dollars.”
To learn more about CROP Walks, or to donate, go to www.churchworldservice.org/site/PageServer.
For more information on SICM or to donate to local food pantries, go to www.sicm.us.