Tar Heel of the Week

Making hunger a big issue, here and abroad

Durham man raises $50 million through CROP hunger walks

CorrespondentOctober 27, 2012 

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Portrait of Joe Moran, managing regional director for the Church World Service CROP Hunger Walk in his Durham, NC office Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012. Moran, 68, has devoted more than thirty years to help ease hunger among North Carolinians and around the world. His local CROP events across North Carolina have netted more than $50 million worth of food. The annual Raleigh CROP Hunger Walk is Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012.

HARRY LYNCH — hlynch@newsobserver.com

  • Joseph Moran Born: Jan. 3, 1944, in Farmingdale, N.Y. Residence: Durham. Career: Director for the eight-state Southeast Region and the CROP Hunger Walk program, Church World Service. Awards: Humanitarian Service Award, North Carolina W. Deen Mohammed Islamic Center, 2012; Marshall Scholar, European Union, one of three Americans honored on the 40th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, 1987; Distinguished Service Award, Church World Service, for his work with a team that investigated extrajudicial slayings in Guatemala, 1982. Education: Master of Religious Education, Maryknoll Theological Seminary; Master in Theology, Capuchin Theological Seminary; B.A., philosophy, St. Anthony College. Family: Wife, Betsy Crites; son, Joe Jr.; daughter, Elizabeth. CROP Hunger Walks: Find out more at www.cropwalk.org.

— When Joe Moran took a job at the Church World Service, he was handed a four-page job description – longer than any he’d had in a decade as a missionary and aid worker in Latin America.

He asked his predecessor for the shorter version and was quickly obliged: “Hunger is the issue,” Moran recalls being told on that day in 1982. “Go around and make yourself useful.”

Moran took that advice to heart. In the past 30 years, he has led North Carolina’s CROP Hunger Walk initiative as it grew into one of the nation’s largest such efforts, helping to raise $50 million for hunger relief projects both internationally and in the Carolinas.

The walks are traditionally held in the harvest season in cities nationwide. But they have gained particular traction in North Carolina. Sunday’s walk in downtown Raleigh is one of nearly 50 across the state this year, and four of the country’s five largest walks take place in North Carolina.

Along the way, Moran also found a personal passion for feeding people across the world and finding ways to help them feed themselves. He writes and speaks widely to educate people on the causes of hunger – and to spur them into action.

“It’s amazing that he’s built the walks into the success that they have been,” says William Kalkhof, president of Downtown Durham Inc., who has worked with Moran on the Durham walk.

But Kalkhof says Moran’s visibility on the issue of hunger has also made him a spokesperson for the world’s most vulnerable citizens.

“It’s good to have his moral voice reminding us that we need to, as a community, help our fellow neighbors,” says Kalkhof.

Moran, 68, says he recognizes that he likely will never see an end to world hunger – though he does believe it’s an achievable goal. In the meantime, he finds inspiration in the people who are willing to fight alongside him.

“Hunger is the biggest health issue in the world,” says Moran, who lives and works in Durham. “One can get depressed easily in this work – and one does. But the volunteers that come to this work with commitment and enthusiasm and spirit have kept me upbeat all these years.”

At first, a priest

Church World Service is a nonprofit aid agency that works with faith groups of all types to raise money for international aid and development. Moran, a former Catholic priest, works regularly with a variety of Christian denominations, as well as local synagogues and mosques. Earlier this year, he received an award from a statewide Muslim group for his work on hunger.

Moran says he’s comfortable working with all denominations – a sense of ease he gleaned in part from his work with the foreign customs of Mayan churches in Central America.

His interest in international travel started when he was a youth growing up in the rural town of Farmingdale, on Long Island in New York.

His mother, who was a nurse, spoke Spanish and stocked the house with books about foreign countries. His father, a World War II veteran who worked at a local aviation plant, did work with the area’s Puerto Rican migrant workers through their church.

Moran left home for Catholic boarding school when he was 13, where he would later study to become a priest. He also studied Spanish there, and in Colombia for several summers during college.

Once ordained as a priest, he was off to Honduras, where he was sent to help train lay leaders in areas where priests were scarce. The trip was his first taste of aid and development work.

“I was training them to be leaders for Sunday services, but also to help their communities mobilize around agricultural and hunger needs,” he says. “It was very satisfying work.”

It was also in Honduras that he met a Peace Corps worker who would eventually become his wife. He left the priesthood and received permission to marry in the Catholic Church.

He continued to work in several countries for the U.S. government and the United Nations, helping to open community schools in Guatemala and representing the Inter-American Foundation in Bolivia and Venezuela.

He first came through the Triangle area in the 1970s. When he returned in the early 1980s, he helped found the Carolina Interfaith Task Force on Latin America, which continues to raise awareness of human rights issues.

Building the walks

He was speaking about human rights at an event when a member of the audience pointed him to an opening at the Church World Service. He thought it might be a good job while he regrouped for another trip abroad. But the work quickly grew on him.

“The more I got into the work, (the more) I realized my 10 years in Latin America really gave me some insights that the people in the Carolinas could benefit from,” he says. “And I saw that this group was providing grassroots efforts in a critical and effective way.”

He says he feels the Church World Service model is effective because it empowers dedicated volunteers in the United States to work closely with their counterparts overseas to match needs with resources.

He still travels every few years – his latest trip was to Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake that killed 75,000 people.

He oversees other similar disaster relief efforts as well as long-term microfinance projects aimed at helping people build sustainable incomes. One initiative he advocated widely last year would fund more sand dams that provide clean water to drought-prone areas of Africa.

The hunger walks help fund many of these projects. When Moran started, they were only a small part of the Church World Service’s fundraising. He says they were devised as a way to mobilize an increasingly urban culture and slowly took over other efforts, such as sending donated wheat abroad or asking farmers to donate the profits from a portion of their acreage.

They also started out geared toward international aid, but now they give up to a quarter of proceeds to local food banks.

Durham’s walk was the state’s first; when it started in 1975, the only other charity walk was for the March of Dimes. Lately, picking up on the popularity of running, some CROP hunger walks have added running portions.

Moran says the walks raise money, but also raise awareness – part of an effort that goes on year-round.

“We’re very serious about helping people understand the root causes of hunger,” he says.

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