By Amy Wight Chapman
The West Parish Congregational Church, together with other area churches and the Bethel Food Pantry, are organizing their 12th annual CROP Walk, to be held on Sept. 17, and are planning several associated events.
CROP Hunger Walks are community-wide events sponsored by Church World Service and organized by religious groups, businesses, schools, and others to raise funds to end hunger in the U.S. and around the world.
Participants raise money through donations and the focus is on community, camaraderie, and learning more about how to combat hunger and other effects of worldwide poverty.
Last year 120,000 participants in over 1,000 CROP Walks raised $10 million in the fight against hunger and privation.
The walk will be introduced at a community cookout on Saturday, Sept. 9 from 2 – 4 p.m. at WPCC. Anyone interested in participating in this year’s walk is encouraged to attend.
“There will be games and activities for all ages, to let us get to know one another better and to educate us all on hunger locally and worldwide,” said WPCC Christian Education Coordinator Patricia Boyle-Wight.
The following day, the Sunday School at WPCC will reconvene after its summer break, and will begin the new year with a study of how to end world hunger.
“We will continue with themes of fighting hunger and also continue to get to know each other better,” Boyle-Wight said. “The two days will sort of have a feeling of one whole.”
On Sept. 17, the day of the CROP Walk, area churches will join together at 10 a.m. for an ecumenical outdoor service on the Bethel Common.
“Now, more than ever, is an important time for our churches to come together to be a public witness to the love, compassion, and peace of Christ, and this service is a great opportunity to do that,” said Rev. Dr. Tim LeConey, pastor of WPCC.
The service will take place in the area of the gazebo, where a tent used for the previous day’s Harvest Fest will provide shelter if needed.
LeConey said he expects the service to revolve around the themes of “ending world and local hunger, clean water for all, and standing in solidarity with those who struggle with poverty and hunger.”
“We will hold the service outside rain or shine, unless it is a downpour, in which case [it] will take place in the sanctuary of the West Parish Congregational Church,” LeConey said.
A community choir directed by Simon Smith will sing several selections during the service, including an original song Smith has written for the occasion.
People of all ages and vocal abilities are encouraged to sing in the community choir. Rehearsals are scheduled for Wed., Sept. 6 and Wed., Sept 13 from 6 to 7 p.m. at the WPCC.
Following the ecumenical service, participants will share a bring-your-own-picnic meal on the Common before setting off on the three-mile CROP Walk around the village.
Jane Chandler of Woodstock, who started the local CROP Walk in 2006 with other members of the church’s World Service Committee, said 25 percent of the money raised here is donated to the Bethel Food Pantry to help reduce hunger locally.
The other 75 percent goes to assist the Church World Service with its work.
“This is a relief agency that partners with local groups around the world,” Chandler said.
“There are two branches of CWS. The more visible is the relief efforts after a natural or political event.”
For example, CWS was quickly on the scene in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake there, and is currently involved with helping Syrian refugees.
“The other branch of CWS specifically works to reduce hunger and poverty,” Chandler said.
“Micro-loans are given to people around the world where a small idea with a small input of cash can make a huge difference in the life of a family.”
She said that as part of the loan process, CWS also furnishes business education and management tools to enable entrepreneurs to succeed.
“CWS has found the money loaned, especially to women, has been returned at an excellent rate. Then the money can help in other communities,” Chandler said.
to Overcome Poverty”
The “CROP” acronym originally stood for “Christian Rural Overseas Program.” Begun in 1947, CROP’s first mission was to provide a way for Midwest farm families to share their grain with people in post-World War II Europe and Asia.
With the expanded focus on worldwide relief efforts and ending poverty, local organizers like to call their effort “Churches Respond to Overcome Poverty.”
“We started with the idea that getting more people involved in an annual walk like CROP Walk would not only raise money for people that really need some assistance, but would raise awareness about poverty that is around us, locally and globally,” Chandler said.
The effort brings together members of WPCC, the Locke Mills Union Church, the Bethel United Methodist Church, the Andover Congregational Church, Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church, the Bethel Church of the Nazarene, the Episcopal House Church and the Norway Episcopal Church, Chandler said.
She said the local CROP Walk, which raises about $4,000 each year, has continued annually since its inception, rain or shine.
“Quite often the rain comes, but the smiles continue,” she said.
Contact Eileen Opie at email@example.com or 824-3121 for more information or for pledge forms. Donations are accepted online at www.crophungerwalk.org.
Callie Pecunies’ team at the 2014 CROP Walk. J. Chandler
2014 CROP Walk participants depart from West Parish Congregational Church. J. Chandler
2015 CROP Walk participants on Main Street. J. Chandler