HUDSON — Hudson resident Mary Walling has participated in the Annual Walk for Hunger for the majority of the 55 years it has taken place.
And, after three years of a virtual walk, the Walk for Hunger will be live again in Boston.
On May 7, she will be among the over 3,000 live and virtual participants to walk the new three-mile loop around the Boston Common in the effort to try to raise over $1 million to end hunger in Massachusetts, according to Sarah Zhitnik of Teak Media and Communication.
First Walk for Hunger
Walling helped to start the first Walk for Hunger in 1969 as a parishioner with Father Patrick Hughes and Father Floyd McManus at the Paulist Center in Boston.
The first Walk for Hunger began as an idea by the young priests at the Paulist Center, who were very active in the community, and an “eager group of parishioners.” Walling said they were proactive and “way ahead of the times” in helping people in the community who needed it.
“We taught English to Spanish-speaking people, a supper club was set up, and we decided we could raise money for two local soup kitchens by getting people to sponsor us in a Walk For Hunger,” Walling said. “You pledge dollars per mile walked, and we’ll walk.”
She added, “It was the first pledge walk in the USA and is now the oldest continuous one.”
They knew there were people in need, and they thought of using the soup kitchens to get sponsors for the walk.
Following 1970, she often hit the pavement for the former 20-mile route. She has a fundraising goal of $11,674 this year and an accumulated amount of over $100,000 after 2019.
She raised $10,984 as of April 27.
In 2020, the decision was made to cancel the walk, but virtual ones were encouraged.
To go from the usual route where “her feet know the route” to finding a place to walk in town was a little strange for her, she said. Glad they were still raising money for the walk, she used the Hudson-Marlborough part of the rail trail for her route.
Project Bread Events Manager Noa Rosen said, “Our walk community always inspires us. The people of Massachusetts showed up in a big way even during a pandemic, walking in their own neighborhoods.”
It’s something that Walling is passionate about because even though the United States is considered a rich country, there are many people who are food insecure. She works at the Hudson Food Pantry and has seen people who are embarrassed because they need help getting food.
“It is just a basic need that needs to be taken care of,” said Walling.
Her mother once received a call because Walling wasn’t eating her lunch because she was sharing it with her friend, who had no lunch.
“She was my friend, and she was hungry. She had no lunch,” Walling said. “So I gave her half of mine. So when my mother found out, … she made two lunches.”
And, while she said there are many things she cannot do, she can walk to make sure other people do not go hungry.
“It’s just something that has to be taken care of. And it’s something I can do,” Walling said.
Why the walk is important
The goal of the Walk for Hunger has “always been to end or alleviate hunger in Massachusetts,” Walling said.
She gets donors from across the country and in other countries, even though the money goes to organizations in Massachusetts.
The parent organization now is Project Bread, who handles the administrative part of the walk, such as distributing the funds raised and educating young people about nutrition.
“They do wonderful things,” Walling said. “They have teaching programs. They go into schools and get kids to eat broccoli.”
Hunger is about knowing the right foods to eat as well, she noted, but also being able to get foods families can afford.
The walk matters because it raises money to “provide hunger relief for people in Massachusetts: families with young children, college students, elderly people, veterans (and) disabled people,” she said.
“Food is a basic necessity,” Walling said. “It is inconceivable that in our state and in our country, we have people who are food insecure and have to make choices between food and medicine/rent/utilities.”
She added, “Participating in Project Bread’s Walk for Hunger is one way we can all do something real to make sure our neighbors in need can get the food to meet their most basic of needs. Our community has shown we have the power to create meaningful change.”
In addition to the walk, there will be entertainment, photo booths, face painting and other family-friendly activities, according to Rosen.
“It’s really just a commitment. I don’t know what else to do on the first Sunday of May every year. I wake up, and that’s what I do,” Walling said.
Overall, she called it a great experience.
She added, “I’ve never had a bad experience with it. The key is just raising the money.”
For information about the Walk for Hunger and Project Bread, visit www.projectbread.org/walk. People experiencing food insecurity can call Project Bread’s toll-free FoodSource Hotline (1-800-645-8333) or visit www.projectbread.org/get-help.