Have Faith: ‘Walking Together Apart’

This year’s CROP Walk will look a little different.

It was apparent when the coronavirus hit that Islanders who ordinarily wouldn’t visit the Food Pantry, Family to Family, or M.V. Food Baskets were lined up in their cars to accept food donations. All of a sudden, work was put on hold for many families, and digging deep into their pockets for things like medicine and groceries, on top of rent and car payments and the rest of the usual bills, became an unwelcome reality.

In the next few weeks, there’s a substantial way you can help your neighbors, and people around the globe, who are struggling. We’re coming up on one of the most important events on the Island, the CROP Walk. Each year more and more money is raised, with 200 walkers raising $34,764 last year to help provide food for the hungry on the Island and around the world. Over the years, the Vineyard CROP Walk has raised more than half a million dollars. Twenty-five percent of funds raised stay right here at home to support Island food programs.

This year marks the 30th annual Martha’s Vineyard CROP Hunger Walk, from Oct. 1 to 18, and COVID-19 means a new way of participating this time around. I talked with Phil Dieterich,who serves on the organizing committee for the CROP Walk, and he explained how it will work.

“We’ve turned ourselves inside out because we had to,” Phil said. “We’re encouraging anyone of all generations to walk and be their own fundraiser and to help, because this pandemic is causing a lot of poverty and hunger.”

Walkers can sign up to participate anytime they like from Oct. 1 to 18, and they can walk, bike, run, kayak, and even skateboard or dance, Phil said. And if walking is difficult for you, you can use a walker and count your steps across the kitchen floor, and that still means you participated.

There are many great places to walk on the Island, Phil said, and this year rather than walk the usual route together from Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs on a specific day, participants can walk as little or as much as they want at any time. This might actually open participation up to more walkers, Phil hopes. And this year’s CROP Walk isn’t limited to the confines of the Island. Through social media, organizers are hoping that visitors, family, and friends across the country will walk. Phil’s children and grandchildren, who are scattered from Boston to Seattle to Kentucky, can participate wherever they are, while he walks on the Island. This year he and his wife can walk an Island trail, and he will bring along his cellphone so that he can show his family where he’s walking in real time.

“I’m going to try to do some of the walking with my daughter in Kentucky, and we can get some photos of people walking in different places; if they were here we would be walking together,” Phil said. “’Walking Together Apart’ is our motto this year.”

“The need is greater than ever,” Phil said. “I was raised to care about other people, so I really feel called to walk and to raise funds.”

Phil has been walking in the CROP Walk for decades, and turns 89 this week. He said he loves that all ages and all people, with or without religious affiliation, participate in the walk. Over the years, many of his friends have visited him on the Island, and he’s going to remind them how much they loved it while he appeals to them for donations to support those in the community who experience food insecurity.

Sharing what you have with others and providing food for the hungry isn’t just a Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist precept. It’s something everyone can do.

You can sign up for the Martha’s Vineyard CROP Walk online at crophungerwalk.org/marthasvineyard/Account/Register, or you can contact Libby Fielder at mvcropwalk@gmail.com or 703-424-3968 for help. If you’d rather not sign up online, you can contact Woody Bowman at 508-958-7058, and he’ll help you.