Walk Against Hunger: Local Groups To Raise Awareness, Funds For Hunger Relief
“Hunger is a word people hear and have thoughts about third-world countries; they don’t grasp that it’s a huge issue in our region,” said Tom Mahon, communications manager for the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.
Raising awareness about the true impact of food insecurity in the area is among the many goals of next month’s Thomas’ Walk Against Hunger, a 3.1-mile walk held April 9 along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
The event, now in its 20th year, promotes education about hunger and hunger-relief efforts,and raises needed funds for area organizations that work to combat the epidemic.
Beneficiaries include hunger-relief nonprofits, soup kitchens and food pantries, whose supporters individually fundraise in advance of the walk.
“Each organization will create its own walk team — it’s like the old walk-a-thons — and they can then solicit donations that way,” Mahon explained. “We also have people who create teams to support those organizations. So I could walk for a soup kitchen in my neighborhood and start my own fundraising page and invite my friends and family.”
About 80 organizations are currently registered as beneficiaries and Mahon expects about 100 by the day of the event. In addition to the Coalition (1725 Fairmount Ave.), other local beneficiaries include Berean Presbyterian Church, Bethel Presbyterian Church, Gibson Temple Baptist Church, Golden Star Baptist Church, Haven Peniel United Methodist Church and Resurrection Baptist Church.
Last year’s walk raised $258,000 for all of the participants and Mahon said organizers anticipate this year’s milestone walk could top that number.
The walk draws between 3,000 and 4,000 participants and planning is handled by the Coalition’s 10 full-time staffers, which Mahon said is quite a job. But it’s one the organizers are eager to take on.
“We’re finalizing t-shirt designs, posting beneficiaries to our website and spreading the word about the event and the mission of the organizations involved,” Mahon said. “It’s definitely a lot of work but it’s something we’re thrilled to be doing because it provides such a great opportunity to so many organizations.”
The Coalition aims to raise about $20,000 for its own organization, which has existed in different forms since 1996 and became its own nonprofit eight years ago.
The agency takes a three-pronged approach to hunger, Mahon explained. It offers immediate relief through a hotline where people can learn about the food kitchens closest to them and an online map listing more than 300 providers in the city. Its short-term relief program includes connecting clients to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, previously called food stamps.
“It can be a very long and tedious process, so we serve kind of as a case manager and help them complete the application and also as a mediator if they hit any snags with the County Assistance Office,” Mahon said.
The Coalition also focuses on long-term relief initiatives, primarily in the advocacy realm, Mahon added.
“We work to make sure those who face food insecurity have a voice regarding the laws and programs, locally and nationally, that affect them,” he said.
Hunger affects people of all walks of life, so fittingly the Walk Against Hunger, Mahon noted, brings together a diverse group of participants.
“There are definitely folks who have been in or currently are in a situation where they face food insecurity. And it’s also people who are connected to a pantry through volunteering or who live near one. And each organization brings its own regular walkers,” he said.
The staff and volunteers at those agencies, Mahon added, rarely get the credit they deserve, another opportunity afforded by the walk.
“You get to celebrate the food-pantry coordinators and kitchen workers who don’t hear the accolades too often that they should,” he said. “This is a great way to come together and thank them for all of their work.”
The goal of unity is being furthered by organizers suspending the run portion of the event this year, so that all participants can set off together.
Both before and after the walk, there will be opportunities for participants to learn about the efforts to curb hunger in the region — and to enjoy the sights and sounds of the day.
“It’s a family-friendly event, so there will be face painting for kids, food and live entertainment and bands at Eakins Oval,” Mahon said. “It’s just overall a fun atmosphere where you can learn about the issue of hunger and come together to build public witness against hunger.”
Check-in for the Walk Against Hunger kicks off at 8AM April 9 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy. The walk sets off at 9AM. For more information, visit www.hungerwalk.org. For more information about the Coalition, visit www.hungercoalition.org.