Hunger relief walk expects big returns


They walked so that others could eat.

On a route that took them from Christ Lutheran Church near the Inner Harbor to West Baltimore around Bolton Hill and back, a dedicated band of more than 600 people braved the chill autumn air to walk and occasionally jog along a 10-kilometer course yesterday morning to raise money for African famine relief.

"You have to look beyond your own problems. They deserve our support," said Sharon Barksdale of West Baltimore, a Social Security Administration employee.

The fifth annual "Walk Against Hunger in Africa" raised about $12,000 yesterday, according to its sponsor, Baltimore Clergy and Laity Concerned Inc., an interfaith group. Organizers expect that total to rise to more than $30,000 once participants have had a chance to collect all their pledges.

That is twice the amount raised last year and surpasses expectations, said John C. Springer, the group's executive director.

The money will be given to several relief agencies that have been trying to help bring food and supplies to drought-stricken East African countries, including Somalia, where more than 1 million of the country's 6 million residents are threatened with death from famine.

"Constantly, when I was in Africa I was bombarded with questions: When is America going to help us? When is America going to get involved?" said Bishop John H. Ricard, who recently returned from a 10-day tour of East Africa sponsored by Catholic Relief Services.

"We haven't devoted much attention to the continent of Africa, not nearly as much as Europe has, and they need our help."

Participants pointed out that the drought that devastated Ethiopia in the mid-1980s and even the civil wars in the former DTC Yugoslavia better captured people's attentions in this country. Somalia, they believe, has been overlooked chiefly because the United States no longer feels threatened by a potential Soviet presence in Africa.

They also pointed to this country's slow reaction to the dire conditions in Somalia as a signal that racial attitudes in white America need to improve.

To that end, The Walk Against Hunger was not just about raising money for Africa, it was "also about Baltimore," Mr. Springer said. Yesterday's crowd was racially diverse, and 100 different churches and synagogues were represented. "This is about bringing people from every ethnic group to come together to do something positive," he said.

It was also fun. At least Darleen McClain and Vickie Jones, both Sunday School teachers at St. Veronica's Roman Catholic Church in Cherry Hill, thought so.

"It's better than washing clothes," said Ms. McClain, whose ensemble yesterday included two pairs of socks, and a portable tape player with headphones. "I told my [Sunday School] kids to walk today, so I wanted to be here to energize them."

Sharon Barksdale's arrival across the finish line strongly

resembled an Olympic highlight film.

Wardell Barksdale, her husband of 14 years, swept her up in his arms for a hug and a kiss, then presented her with a bouquet of red and white carnations even though she had just walked, not run, the 6.2 miles in a leisurely two hours.

Sandra McWhirter of Homeland and Debbie Wilkinson of Bel Air said they were ready to follow Pat Thomson, a fellow parishioner at Faith Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, to the finish line if only to stay warm in the 51-degree chill.

"The pictures and the news reports about hunger in Africa and the devastating conditions brought me out today," said Ms. Thomson, 65, of Hamilton. "With my two partners, I guess I'm confident I can do it."

The route took the walkers down Martin Luther King Boulevard north to Pennsylvania Avenue and then Dolphin Street, east along LaFayette Avenue to Bolton Hill, across Mount Royal Avenue and south along Charles Street back to the starting point. No problems were reported.

The walk was dedicated beforehand to the memory of Rep. Mickey Leland, D-Texas, who died after his plane crashed on a lifesaving mission to Ethiopia.

"Congratulations," Vance Mack, 23, a college student from northeast Baltimore, told finishers as they headed for lemonade and cookies. "Come back next year."

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