When Bounlome Dara arrived in this country as a refugee, her family was assisted by the Church of the Nativity United Church of Christ.
Now, as a young mother, she is committed to giving back. So she and her 7-year-old son, Lorenzo Alviti, came out on a mild autumn day to join the Ken-Ton CROP Hunger Walk.
"I remember doing this as a child," she said, before starting off on the walk with her son. "For me, this is a way of giving back and a way of helping educate people, too."
Dara and Lorenzo were two of about 50 people of all ages who hit the sidewalks around the church on North Colvin Boulevard in the Town of Tonawanda at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, carrying signs and balloons.
Walkers, who collected pledges before the event, chose between a one-mile and a three-mile walk. The latter took them on a route as far north as McConkey Drive.
Besides Nativity, the CROP Walk is supported by five other Ken-Ton Churches – Zion United Church of Christ, Kenmore United Church of Christ, Kenilworth United Church of Christ, Kenmore Presbyterian Church and Kenmore United Methodist Church.
The CROP Hunger Walk, whose name stood for Christian Rural Overseas Program when it was started in 1947 by Church World Service, sets aside a quarter of the funds raised to be spent locally. Last year that amounted to $1,400, said organizer Gary Schulenberg. That money is divided between a Tonawanda food pantry and the six participating churches for their anti-hunger initiatives.
This year, he said, organizers were hoping to collect a total of $6,000, with $1,500 shared in this area.
The Food Bank of Western New York has found that in Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, some 178,810 people – more than 13 percent of the population – are food insecure, which the agency defines as "not having consistent access to enough nutritious food to lead a healthy life." Some 50,430 children, more than 20 percent of the child population, are food insecure.
Kenilworth United Church of Christ Pastor Tina Bacon brought a group of 14 from her church, along with her son, Clinton Bacon-Schneider, 12. "We participate because there are so many people just in our community alone who are in need of food," she said. "The CROP Walk keeps a portion of the money raised in our community."
The CROP Walk is just one of the many steps the Church of the Nativity takes to feed the hungry, said Schulenberg. The church donates supplies to the food pantry of Friends of Night People, and church members cook and serve food there monthly, he said.
Before the group set off on its routes, the Rev. Howard W. Boswell Jr. of Kenmore Presbyterian Church began with a prayer that clarified their purpose. Although the walk on a mild fall day would be enjoyable, he said, "Today we walk because we want to make a difference in the lives of those who walk miles and miles for the basic necessities of life."
For Clinton Bacon-Schneider, who walked in a CROP Walk last year in West Seneca, the exertion is worth it.
"It's tiring, but it's a good cause and you feel good afterward," he said.