DURHAM — A billion people around the world go hungry each year, and Taniesha Williams has sometimes walked in their shoes.
The Durham Tech student walked in their honor Sunday afternoon, trekking 8 kilometers in the 39th annual Durham CROP Hunger Walk to raise money to feed the hungry.
Organizers didnt know yet whether they had reached their goal of at least 1,000 walkers for the event, which last year raised just over $150,000 75 percent of which went to Church World Service to fight hunger around the globe. A fourth of the money $37,500 last year stays in Durham. This year, the local funds will go to four agencies that help Durhams needy.
CROP walks take their name from the Christian Rural Overseas Program, a post-World War II effort to allow Midwest farm families to share their grain with hungry people in Europe and Asia. The first CROP walk to raise money was in 1969.
There are now more than 1,600 CROP Hunger Walks each year, including nearly four dozen in North Carolina.
The whole idea of people going hungry is deplorable, said Nell Noonan, who was walking for the first time in Sundays event and had drafted her granddaughter, Abby Schoenfeld, to participate as well. Noonan said she had raised about $250 in sponsorships.
Schoenfeld was home from Barnard College on spring break, though clouds and a stiff breeze made it feel more like winter.
The walk began and ended at Duke Chapel, and before they headed out, walkers were serenaded by the Durham Community Concert Band. Durham Bulls mascot Wool E. Bull used an air cannon to fire T-shirts into the crowd, and Durham Mayor Bill Bell said a quick thanks to those who offered their feet so others could eat.
What I like most about Durham are its people, Bell said. Durham is a very caring community.
To prove it, walkers came out alone, as couples, as families, as church groups and with coworkers, including more than 40 people who work at Syngenta Biotechnology in RTP. Employees and company President Michiel van Lookeren Campagne all wore matching green T-shirts.
Van Lookeren Campagne said this was his third year on the CROP walk, and that he supports the project partly because it meshes with his companys interest in helping develop more productive crops.
The lengths theyll go to
Claudine Zimmerman walked with members of her church, St. Joseph AME of Durham, whose youth are accustomed to Zimmerman telling them how good they have it. Zimmermans upbeat nature jibes with the CROP walks theme, We walk because they walk, a reference to the literal lengths to which people in developing countries must go to secure food and safe water.
I tell our young people all the time, You dont know how much you have, Zimmerman said. This is a chance to do some good for those less fortunate.
As walkers headed out to circle into the Walltown neighborhood and back, they were handed postcards with the names of people they could imagine they were walking for: Agneza, a 15-year-old who lives with her mother, father and three siblings in a house made of items they pulled from the trash in Belgrade; or Nlyombabazi, a Rwandan boy who lost his parents when he was 13 and is living in refugee camp in Tanzania.
When hunger hits home
Taniesha Williams knows people much closer to home who dont always know where theyll get their next meal. Like her, theyre students at Durham Tech.
Growing up, Williams watched family members lose their jobs as one textile plant after another closed in her hometown of Anderson, S.C. She decided early she wouldnt stay there, where she didnt think she had a chance of supporting herself.
I turned 18 and I left, Williams said, going first to Charlotte and eventually landing in Durham.
Now 29, she is poised to get an associates degree in a few months. But getting here has been difficult at times without a family support system close by, she said. In between paychecks from her part-time job, she has sometimes relied on soup kitchens and faith to get by. At times, shes gone for a day without eating.
So do other Durham Tech students, Williams says. A member of the schools student government board, she helped launch a food pantry that opened on campus in February. When its stocked, students who need help can get enough food for one quick meal, or they can gather groceries to take home.
Asked whether she planned to walk all 8 kilometers, Williams flashed a bright smile and picked up her pace.
Dont worry, she said.
I always go all the way.