Last year, Pastor Doug Baitinger asked for good weather in the benediction at the Greater Woodbury CROP Walk, but got rain instead.
With threatening skies this year, senior pastor at Mantua United Methodist wasn't taking any chances.
After some inspiring words from the Rev. Christine Regan of St. Stephen's Lutheran Church and an opening prayer from Baitinger–one that stuck to the spiritual, rather than the meteorological–close to 200 people (and a few dogs) hit the road for the annual walk Sunday.
More than eight groups from different faiths and organizations came together to walk against hunger and support both Church World Service and a local Woodbury food bank.
Over the last thirteen years, the walk, known as the Christian Rural Overseas Program (CROP), has collected over $185,000 dollars from the Greater Woodbury walk alone.
Starting at the United Methodist Church of Manuta, volunteers walked 10 kilometers (just over six miles) to the Holy Nativity Lutheran Church, then on to the First Presbyterian Church on Elm Avenue, before finally heading down Evergreen Avenue to St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church.
Local volunteers began signing people in and collecting jars of peanut butter–a tradition at the walk–for the Woodbury Food Bank and United Methodist Church food pantry well before 1:30 p.m. Old friends re-united, smiles and laughter were all around and others were introduced for the first time.
One of the registration volunteers, Alice Histand, has been a member of United Methodist of Mantua for over 29 years has been doing this walk for the last 10. The best part for her was “just to know that you are helping people less fortunate than yourself.”
And the charity, Christian World Service (CWS), has been doing just that. Since 1946 CWS, has been providing emergency relief service, education, refugee assistance and other services to people in need in the United States and countries around the world.
The associate regional director for CWS, Kay Kusterbeck, was at the walk on Sunday. Kusterbeck was drawn to the organization after seeing how they worked with charities of many different faiths, which was different from what she had seen from other charities. She now works on CWS-related events throughout New Jersey.
“People in South Jersey are very down-to-earth,” she said.
CROP walks have been going on in New Jersey since 1974, and $200,000 to $250,000 out of the money raised state wide at the CROP walks will go to New Jersey charities, Kusterbeck said.
As for outside the country, Regan traveled with Kusterbeck to East Africa to witness some of the work CWS does firsthand.
Much of the work that Regan witnessed centered around self-reliance training, including teaching people in Kenya to dig wells and helping orphans in Rwanda learn how to raise their younger siblings.
"That's better than just providing food because it helps people to be able to help their families so that they can be more self-reliant," said Regan.
She is now one of the many interfaith organizers of the event. Regan originally got involved with the CWS years ago in Middleton, NJ, and is now working with them here in Gloucester County.
Regan also predicted that the rain would hold off before the event started.
“I think it’s good because it’s cooler than yesterday, so it will energize people to walk," she said.
Volunteers of all ages worked their way through historic Wenonah, some stopping at the three different rest stops where water and cookies were provided by members of the different churches. Police from Deptford and Woodbury Heights drove patiently next to the long line of walkers making sure that traffic was orderly and the volunteers were safe.
"They were a big help," said Regan. "There were people with children and baby strollers. It was good to have them monitoring the walk."
Libby Sellen and Mary Wiegard from the Woodbury Food Bank were among the many walkers that day. The food bank, part of the Greater Woodbury Cooperative Ministries, will be receiving 25 percent of the proceeds raised from Sunday’s local walk.
Sellen and Wiegard are two of the volunteers responsible for interviewing clients, or people asking for assistance at the food bank. Unlike some other food banks, none of the volunteers or staff at this location are paid. Ninety-nine cents of every dollar raised goes directly to those in need.
The food bank, which is open on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, is now gearing up for the Summer Lunch Program where children who receive free lunch during the school year can also receive lunches throughout the summer.
“Right now times are tough because for the summer, it always slows down,” said Sellen.
According to both Sellen and Wiegard most of the revenue that fuels the Greater Woodbury Cooperative Ministries food bank is given by either individual or group donations.
There is no clear total yet on how much the walk has raised this year, as donations will come in over the next several weeks, Regan said.
Regan said each contributor donates about twenty dollars to the walker they are sponsoring. Contributors have a choice of their donations going to charities other than CWS, but she predicts that the majority will be allocated to both the Greater Woodbury Cooperative Ministries and CWS.