By: Maria E. Infante, Community Initiatives Manager, Project Bread–The Walk for Hunger
Trite as it may sound, a journey of a thousand miles does begin with one step. In this case the journey is only 20 miles but that first step is still essential. One of Boston’s rites of spring is Project Bread’s annual Walk for Hunger. Always held the first Sunday in May, the walk brings over 40,000 people together with the common goal of walking to raise funds for and awareness about the plight of the hungry in Massachusetts.
First started in 1969 by Father Patrick Hughes and a group of activists from the Paulist Center, the Walk for Hunger raises millions of dollars each year, which fund the work of over 400 emergency food programs in communities throughout the state of Massachusetts. The Walk comprises a 20-mile route that winds its way through Boston, Brookline, Newton, Watertown, Cambridge, and back to Boston Common. It is a walk, not a race, and very much a family-friendly event. People of all ages and backgrounds participate and many have turned it into a family tradition.
I first heard about the Walk shortly after I graduated from college, and it sounded like such an amazing event that I decided I needed to be part of it. I talked to friends and a handful of us “walked the Walk” on a bright Sunday morning. I only raised $15 and only walked 7 miles but upon arriving at the finish line aboard one the shuttle buses that are available along the route I was greeted and cheered for with as much joy and enthusiasm as those who had walked the entire 20 miles and had raised a lot more money. I was thanked for my participation and I was given ice cream for my efforts! All in a few days’ work: talk to your friends, get some pledges, walk with said friends and see how your small contribution becomes part of something bigger, much bigger. As I rested sore muscles and reveled in high spirits, I felt the satisfaction of knowing that my small contribution provided some food to folks who really needed it.
In some of the Walk’s promotional materials you find a poignant Pablo Neruda quote, “For now I ask no more than the justice of eating.”
I like this quote. I like the entire poem from which it is taken, “The Great Tablecloth”. The imagery used in the poem is vivid and the commentary is somewhat derisive but, dare I say it, satisfactory. What is haunting about this line—the conclusion— is that it reminds the reader that food is a fundamental human right. It is unjust that in a world of plenty, the affluent few enjoy abundant bounty while the destitute many languish without sufficient sustenance. Eating can be a solitary endeavor but to be truly satisfactory—that word again—it must be a shared experience “with those who haven’t eaten.”
The implication is that food will do “for now” but this is just the beginning, because the speaker intends to ask for more than just food. I imagine that the speaker has a list of grievances, food is one of them but once he has satisfied that need he will demand another type of justice: work, freedom, love, health, religion…
In Massachusetts that 20-mile journey began 43 years ago and it continues each year. The Walk for Hunger is the oldest continuous pledge walk in the country and the largest one-day fundraiser to alleviate local hunger. The Walk has raised millions ($3.6 this year alone) to help families, individuals, seniors have access to healthy food.
The Walk is a true grassroots event that continues because people from all social and economic backgrounds have made a commitment to it. I think that if one year we failed to organize the Walk, people would still show up and walk on their own because they believe in the cause. More than that, they are committed to righting the wrong and being part of the solution.
Years after my first walk experience I applied for a job with Project Bread-The Walk for Hunger. I couldn’t be happier to have joined a mission-driven organization that understands that feeding people is not just about providing food but also about nourishing their soul, educating their mind, and nurturing their sense of self-worth. Hunger is not just an economic issue; it is a health issue, it is a social issue. It’s a matter of human dignity.