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CROP Hunger Walk raises awareness of food insecurity

Talia Whyte
CROP Hunger Walk raises awareness of food insecurity
Boston members of the Church World Service participated in the first annual Crop Hunger Walk Oct. 24 to highlight the growing rate of food insecurity throughout the city.  The Rev. John McCullough (center), the organization’s executive director, said that funds raised from the walk will support local aid agencies. (Photo: Talia Whyte)

To many Americans, hunger is a problem that occurs only in the developing world. But the recent global recession has highlighted the growing problem of hunger and proper nutrition in the United States.

For the most part, faith communities have taken the lead on raising awareness, and efforts have been stepped up in recent months to help the growing number of unemployed people continue to have access to food.

Last Saturday, Boston members of the Church World Service led its first CROP Hunger March through the city’s poorest communities to spotlight the problem of hunger in America.

“These marches have been occurring around the country for over 20 years, and help local communities better understand why this issue needs to be taken seriously,” said June Cooper, executive director of the City Mission Society of Boston.

The Rev. John L. McCullough, executive director of Church World Service, has been a longtime advocate for food-insecure communities around the world. In November 2003, McCullough co-led a humanitarian delegation to North and South Korea, as a part of Church World Service’s ongoing humanitarian aid and support for the people of North Korea. But he said now is the time to focus on food issues on the home front as well.

“In the midst of this economy, we are seeing a decrease in safety nets,” McCullough said. “There has been an increase in people using food pantries, and we have to make sure people who are unemployed or even underemployed don’t fall through the net.”

According to a 2009 report compiled by the hunger-relief charity Feeding America and entitled “Child Food Insecurity in the United States: 2005 – 2007,” one in six young children live on the brink of hunger in 26 states throughout the country. The rate of food insecurity in children is 33 percent higher than in American adults, where one in eight live at risk of hunger.

Locally, many churches have taken on addressing food justice as a priority issue in support of their congregants. R.O. Aamir Mahdi, a member of the Masjid Al Qur’an mosque in Dorchester, also participated in the Saturday walk and said that not only does his faith community serve the hungry year round, but he likes to personally give back to those less fortunate.

“My family has always taught me about giving to the needy and being a light in my community,” Mahdi said. “This is about sharing with your neighbor in their time of need.”

Saturday’s walk is raising money to benefit local agencies, such as Jamaica Plain’s Community Servings and the food pantry at Uphams Corner’s Pilgrim Congregational Church.

 The Food Project, a Lincoln, MA-based social justice organization which has a community farm in Dorchester, will also receive funding from the walk.

 Shelly Kerr, 17, of Mattapan and Lily Martinez, 18, of Roxbury are interns with the organization, and see firsthand the problems of accessing food in low income communities. Kerr said that because there are no supermarkets in Mattapan that offer fresh, healthy food, her mother drives to Hyde Park to do the family’s food shopping. But the cost of gasoline and the high cost of food make a tight budget even tighter.

“Too many people don’t have many good, inexpensive food options in their neighborhoods, so a lot of people end up going hungry,” Kerr said.

Nonetheless, Martinez is hopeful that more attention will be given to this problem.

 “This is not a political issue,” Martinez said. “This is about making sure people have food, which everyone has the right to have.”