After telling myself a couple years ago that I was done with the whole idea of walking to raise money for a cause, I find myself leading a group of kids to do that very same thing this weekend. Being in this position has reawakened all my old ambivalence toward these walks.
The very first charity walk that I was involved with was the CROP walk back in middle school. I remember walking through the golden autumn light, away from the familiar roads of downtown and out into rural parts of town I'd never seen before. Discovering that there were still unfamiliar parts of town, after living there most of my life was exciting, and exploring them powered by my own two feet created a sense of adventure. I assume I was there with my church youth group, but in the murky way of memories, I also think I remember being with classmates. The identities of my fellow walkers may be lost, but the feeling of camaraderie and being part of something larger and more powerful than me, remains crystal clear.
Fast forward ten or fifteen years and I was walking through unfamiliar neighborhoods of Boston, surrounded by a sea of strangers and feeling that same camaraderie and do-goodery. Again the cause was hunger, an issue whose very existence in this country strikes me as unacceptable. This time, instead of the seven miles of the CROP walk, the route was twenty and I have to admit I was as driven to see if I could walk that far, as I was to raise the money.
I did the full twenty miles (and was really proud of the achievement) until the next year when I collected double the money while only walking half the distance. This time I had a walking partner who was more into the doing good part and less into "extreme" walking, so at the half way mark we took the courtesy bus back to the beginning and called it a day.
Even though all of my sponsors had made a flat donation, rather than a per mile one, I still felt like I'd cheated. I hadn't suffered for the cause; I'd taken a nice walk with a friend. And that's when I realized that how much I walked, the part I could truly control, was meaningless. It didn't affect how much people donated. They donated what they were comfortable with, regardless. So why were walkers and all the expenditures of a massive walk even necessary? And that's when I finally understood why charity walks work.
Charities hold walks, because it's a lot harder for an individual to say no to a friend who asks for a donation, than to ignore a faceless organization asking for money to help strangers. Boom. With that realization, nothing about the system had changed from what it had always been, but I felt a bit dirty. My relationships were being used, and even if it was for a good cause, I felt uncomfortable. So I stopped. If I wanted to support a cause I would, but I'd leave my friends out of it.
So here I am, about to chaperon a charity walk and having mixed feelings about it. I hope the kids enjoy that same sense of being a drop in a much larger ocean of good that I did at that age. I hope they enjoy themselves and look for more opportunities to get involved in the community. And as for me, I'm looking forward to a walk in the golden light of autumn, exploring parts of Concord I've never visited before.
If you'd like to make a donation to Sunday's CROP walk, your money will go toward local food pantries and international disaster relief.
Here are a few links to other organizations involved in the fight against hunger.
The Food Project - Bringing fresh, reasonably priced vegetables to Boston and educating a new generation of farmers along the way.
Project Bread - Check out their beautiful holiday card selection. It's a great way to support their year long effort to feed the hungry children of MA.
Share Our Strength - If you watch the Food Network you're probably familiar with their work.
UNICEF - An organization that needs no introduction
It was a beautiful day for a walk. There was something wonderful about a long ribbon of people walking through historic (and rather affluent) Concord to bring some relief to those in need.
Taken near the Old North Bridge