Have faith: CROP Walk

The annual walk brings out the best in everybody.

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Participants in the 2017 CROP Walk for hunger. — Courtesy Charles W. Bowman

One of the best fall weekend events on the Island is coming up next Sunday, Oct. 14. This year’s CROP Walk kicks off at St. Augustine’s Church in Vineyard Haven at 2 pm. There are a three-mile and a six-mile option (I think I know which one I’d choose). The three-miler ends at Trinity United Methodist Church in the Campground, and the six-miler returns to St. Augustine’s. I hear that 10-year-old Pickle Eville is a big leader in gathering donations. She’s up to $1,660 already, and is co-caption for the team at her home church, First Congregational Church of West Tisbury. Her church is leading the Island organizations, with a total of $3,125 raised so far.

I touched base with CROP Walk organizer Woody Bowman, and he gave me lots of information. “The M.V. CROP Walk has a lot of good momentum, with 15 teams already formed, including teams from newly involved Island Grown Initiative and the M.V. Charter School,” Woody wrote in an email. “The online efforts are already sterling: Ten days before the walk, $3,475 has been contributed online, and I’m sure other walkers are picking up generous donations of checks and cash.”

He said the goal on-Island is $27,250, and if they meet the goal, it will put the Island group over the half-million-dollar cumulative total during the 28 years of CROP Walks on Martha’s Vineyard. Currently the Island’s raised a total of $472,769 over the years. “That would be a landmark achievement,” Woody wrote. “We can meet that challenge, which would be the highest single walk total ever, if we receive good support from the whole community. We’re moving well in that direction.”

This year’s walk is held in memory of the Rev. Alden Besse, founder and leader of the walk for 25 years. He died in December 2017, leaving a legacy of his work in all facets of social justice, including feeding the hungry. They’ll also be honoring Betty Burton at this year’s walk. She’s worked for two decades to alleviate hunger on the Island.

My friend Pat Waring, who happens to attend Grace Episcopal Church, wrote to me about her memories of the Rev. Alden Besse and about some of his wife Barbara’s memories: “Over many years Grace Episcopal Church parishioners knew it was CROP Walk season when the Rev. Alden Besse would station himself at a table near the parish hall door during coffee hour,” Pat wrote. “Surrounded by sign-up sheets, pledge forms, brochures, and information about all the good works supported by CROP donations, Father Besse would greet every passerby with his characteristic big smile and an enthusiastic invitation to sign up, walk, pledge, give money. Few could refuse him!”

Pat spoke with Barbara, and she recalled her husband’s undaunted efforts every year. “He worked tirelessly,” she said. “It was always hard to get secretaries, treasurers. He was always on the phone trying to get people to help.” She added that he was delighted when Woody Bowman stepped up to assume much of the responsibility.

Barbara related that her husband began the CROP Walk on Martha’s Vineyard in 1991, soon after the couple retired here in 1990. But he had worked on CROP for many years before, as rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Whitinsville for a decade, and at parishes in Rhode Island for 17 years before that.

“We had papers all over the floor,” Barbara laughed, remembering the piles of brochures, pledge forms, envelopes, and sign-up sheets as Alden made up packets for marchers and other materials that he would deliver to Island churches.

Besse continued championing the fundraiser, encouraging marchers and donors, and leading the six-mile hike every year right through his 80s. And, Pat wrote, “even with declining health in his last few years, Father Besse stayed steadfastly involved.”

Three years ago he made the entire walk in a wheelchair, pushed by his daughter Linda Besse and nephew Steve Besse, with wife Pam.

Two years ago at the CROP Walk, Pat wrote, Barbara drove Alden along the road to Trinity Methodist Church in Oak Bluffs and back, stopping occasionally to let him get out, as he was determined to walk at least a short distance.

This year, Pat wrote, it is Barbara Besse who has been sitting near the parish hall door, gladly accepting donations from worshipers who remember Alden’s dedication and make contributions in his honor.

I touched base with the other honoree, Betty Burton, because I personally just love her, and because I knew she’d be humble and grateful to be recognized. “This year’s walk is dedicated to the memory of Alden Besse, and it is an honor to be associated with Alden in this way, as Alden was one of the people who drew me into activism on behalf of people who are hungry. Reverend Besse truly was an inspiration for me,” Betty wrote to me in an email.

Betty said she participated in her first CROP Walk shortly after moving to the Island in 1994. Her daughter Gracie was only 7, and that year’s youngest walker. (Poet Dionis Coffin Riggs was the oldest, at 97.) Betty wrote about her history on the Island, and how she first got involved in addressing hunger here: “Soon I was a volunteer driver for the Meals on Wheels program, a member of the Vineyard Committee on Hunger, and a volunteer at the Island Food Pantry. The Meals on Wheels program, in particular, opened my eyes to the challenges faced by many of our elders. In the late 1990s I was, for a period before I began my job at the Vineyard Haven library, the coordinator of Meals on Wheels.

“As a worker at the Island Food Pantry, which was then open only during the cold months, I saw an unmet need for people who needed assistance year-round, and an opportunity, because there was free food available through the Greater Boston Food Bank that was not being used here. That led me to start Serving Hands, a once-monthly free food distribution. The First Baptist Church in Vineyard Haven has been our home for nearly 20 years. Family to Family, the holiday meals program, grew out of Serving Hands. Along the way I was elected to chair the Vineyard Committee on Hunger, which raises funds, promotes awareness, and helps coordinate hunger-related activities on the Island. I’m now in my second stint as chair of VCOH.”

And of course, Betty said, she wants to emphasize that there are many other good people and organizations working together on the Island to address hunger.

In case you’re wondering what happens to the money raised at the CROP Walk, 25 percent of the amount Islanders raise stays right here to support the Food Pantry and the Vineyard Committee on Hunger. The rest helps Church World Service in the U.S. and abroad in its emergency food supplies, agricultural training, livestock, wells and pumps, farm seeds, and farm equipment programs.

If you’re interested in the CROP Walk, either to join a team or to make a donation, check out the website, crophungerwalk.org/marthasvineyard. They make it very simple to click right on a link to donate.

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On Sunday, Oct. 14, Grace Church in Vineyard Haven will host an Open House for children and families in the Children’s Chapel from 9:30 to 11 am. A newsletter from the church explains that the chapel is a child-friendly space where children explore the stories of the Bible, the practice of prayer, and the importance of their relationships with the world, with each other, and with God. Children’s services take place in the Chapel every Sunday from 9:45 am to 10:45 am, in conjunction with the 10 am service of Holy Eucharist at Grace Episcopal Church. Children of all ages are invited to participate.
The children’s service is lectionary-based, and experienced through play and artistic expression, the newsletter says. The program is led by Leigh Ann Yuen, a certified early childhood educator, and assisted by Grace O’Malley, a student at MVRHS. Nursery care is also available. For more information about the Open House or weekly Children’s Chapel services, call Grace Church at 508-693-0332.

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I’m always up for a good fish fry. Saturday, Oct. 13, from 5 to 7 pm, the United Methodist Church at the Campground hosts its first annual Fish Fry, featuring fresh fish, coleslaw, French fries, cornbread, a drink, and dessert. Adults $18, and children 12 and under, $9. It’s too bad I’m writing this at lunchtime!

If you have news for Have Faith, send it to connie@mvtimes.com.