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It started as a simple idea 30 years ago - an answer to a question that was not yet fully formed.
The year was 1984 and we had only begun to imagine what was possible. The Food Bank itself was still in its infancy, and yet we were very confident that we were on to something important. We were still operating out of an old rented warehouse using donated trucks and mostly volunteer labor. We had found congregations and communities of people who wanted to work with and support us, but what could we do together to show our common values and commitment?
A small group of us - young, naïve, and deeply committed - gathered around our kitchen table and began to dream out loud. How could we bring our small fledgling community together to celebrate both our simple accomplishments as well as our greatest aspirations? Our collective imagination was unencumbered by any past failures. This would be a new idea in a new time. We would show our unity in fighting hunger by walking together. Congregations, faith groups, supporters and volunteers all expressing solidarity - we knew even then that we needed each other to succeed.
We had a core belief that food in all its manifestations could be the organizing tool for unified action.
We found that the more we shared, the more support we received, and by embracing the diverse ways that people live out their core beliefs we became more than the sum of our parts. The first Hunger Walk was attended by hundreds, not thousands. We had no prior experience or blueprint for success. The event was minimally planned and not very well organized. I was surprised that so many people actually showed up! It felt right and good to be together.
So, we began the annual Walk we all imagined was possible. Over the years we have endured heat and cold, rain, snow, even hurricane winds. We’ve also enjoyed our share of absolutely beautiful days. The first Walk was in the fall. Eventually, it was moved to spring, and it expanded to a Walk/Run. I have made a point to walk the full route every year. I’ve walked with people in their 90’s and helped push strollers with newborns. As the event has grown, it has brought out more and more families. Thirty years later, some of those children in strollers are now parents bringing their own families to the Walk.
There is a moment at the beginning of the Walk when from the top of the hill under the Olympic bridge I look back at thousands and thousands of people, all connected by a common commitment – walkers branded with their group’s logo, flags waving, children laughing – everyone stepping forward together. And I’m awed with the affirmation that a simple idea formed around a kitchen table had potential to not only sustain over time, but to grow beyond our wildest dreams.
Each year, as we progress along the route and make our turn around the Capitol Rotunda on MLK Drive, past the home of our legislators, many of us are acutely aware that part of the answer to ending hunger lies with smarter and more compassionate public policy toward those who struggle in life. It motivates us to take a stand, especially this year when our nation’s nutrition safety net is in danger of severe cuts. We know that the model of partnerships which have been the foundation of our work at the Food Bank and the organization of the Hunger Walk/Run are positive examples, that if emulated would help our government and community institutions work better. We know in that moment that anything is possible, if only we can find ways to work together.
As the Food Bank turns the corner into a new year and we look into the future, we’re excited to be focusing more on health and wellness - on providing greater access to fresh, healthy food for our clients - and being part of creating an urban agriculture network that includes everyone who wants to work toward a more holistic approach to building and strengthening community. We will continue to invest in our partner agencies and the communities they serve. We will be more active educators and advocates. We will provide the table and offer the facilitation that invites community dialogue and creative imagination.
Stephen Covey has said, “Live out of your imagination, not your history.” While this community has a great history of success in hunger relief work, it is only the foundation for the imagination of future leaders.
The reality of hunger in a land of plenty leaves a lot for us to do. If we continue to create opportunities to imagine and celebrate together, today’s youth will become amazing leaders for tomorrow. The Hunger Walk/Run is but one example, but it’s a beautiful illustration of creating space for collective imagination and action. By walking with our children, we set the stage for them to learn more than we can ever tell them. I’m confident that the next group of naïve and deeply committed young leaders will find new avenues to address this critical work in ways we never dreamed possible, one step at a time.
-Bill Bolling, Executive Director
This letter appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Foodsharing, our quarterly print newsletter. For more information on Foodsharing, please visit our Newsletters page.