CROP Walk event sets record
With a banner held high, Martha Clark set out Sunday down Pine Street in Exeter, on a sunny afternoon leading a procession of 225 charity walkers on the first leg of the 27th annual Exeter Area Interfaith CROP Hunger Walk.
"We're trying to make this more of a parade this year," said Clark, whose placard identified the leaders of the group as the Pilgrim United Church of Christ of Brentwood.
With 13 churches and other organizations walking for the Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty event, the buzzword for the day was "interfaith."
"There are so many things the churches can do together," said Allan Lurvey, minister for pastoral counseling at Stratham Community Church.
Four years ago the church in Stratham, which had held its own CROP Walk every year, merged with the other local organizations under the leadership of Andrea Renz.
"Andrea is definitely our driving force here," said Lurvey.
"The walk was having trouble about five years ago, and we didn't know if was going to make it," explained Renz.
In years past, the walk had been based out of Phillips Exeter Academy, but with it being such a big event to plan, the school couldn't keep up on it. That's where the churches came in.
"All of the churches and nonprofits came together, and worked to make this happen," said Renz. "It is really great, the brotherhood and camaraderie that happen here. It's the way it is supposed to be."
The event raises money through walkers being sponsored by local businesses or residents. In addition, this year, according to Renz, there were more online donations than ever before.
Last year the event brought in about $17,000. This year, preliminary numbers indicate that the event may have raised more than $20,000 as money continues to trickle in through donations and as walkers turn in their envelopes.
"That would be the highest CROP Walk we've ever had," said Renz. "Everyone was just so generous."
The walk took fund-raisers through either a one-mile loop around the block or a four-mile loop starting at Christ Church on Pine Street and zigzagging to the end of Swasey Park, down Water Street and back down Court Street.
"The people here are just wonderful. There is so much awareness of the needs of the community," said Melody Fellows, whose husband, Robert, recently took over as pastor at the Greenland Community Congregational Church. "It's wonderful to see the consciousness, and it's nice to do something interdenominational."
Not everyone at the event was from a church. Students from Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter High School and the University of New Hampshire were all on-hand volunteering time to register walkers and take the walk themselves.
Eighteen-year-old David Harman was helping to sign people up for the walk. An Exeter native, Harman said he was looking to fill some community service hours for school and, after some research, found the CROP Walk.
"I thought it was a great cause, and it's right here in Exeter," he said.
Harman said he was helping with the walk because some of the proceeds go to local food pantries.
Twenty-five percent of the total proceeds from the day will go to local food pantries, while the rest of the money will go to Church World Services, an international organization dedicated to fighting world poverty and hunger, and providing international relief funds.
With music, a big tent, ice cream and the constant snap of photographs, the event seemed more like a festival than a charity walk, but when Rich Coleman, a member of the CROP Walk Committee took the microphone, he focused walkers on their cause.
"We have a worthy cause here," he said, citing the fact that 10 million people die of hunger every year around the world. "That is an unfair situation, but we are here to do something to help."
And after an opening prayer by Father Marc Montminy of St. Michael Parish, walkers took to the line and set out to fight hunger with fund-raising and footsteps.