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Hundreds lace up to fight hunger, help the homeless

on October 13, 2010

Hundreds of people hit the pavement at the Richmond Civic Center Plaza early Saturday morning to help the homeless at the 24th Annual Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP) Harmony Walk to End Hunger.

“It’s one of the few events in the city where everybody just comes together,” said Art Hatchett, GRIP executive director.  “It gives an opportunity not to just to be together, but to focus on the fact that we do have a lot of people in our community that need a lot more help and support.”

Vera Spruill, right, of Antioch, joins Richmond residents in stretching before the walk. (Photo by Tyler Orsburn)

Organizers hoped to raise more than $70,000 at the walk, their only major fundraiser of the year. All of the proceeds will help fund GRIP’s various programs for the homeless in Contra Costa County, including shelter at its Family Housing Program, showers at the West County Resource Center, and hot meals at the Souper Center.

Kia Croon, GRIP’s programs director, said the proceeds will go a long way to help meet the growing demand for its services. The organization helps 15,000 homeless people each year, a number that continues to rise as the economy struggles to recover. This year, GRIP has seen a 15 percent increase in demand for free lunches and now has a waiting list for beds at its family shelter. With so many Richmond area residents facing extreme hardship, Croon said she appreciated the strong show of support at the walk.

“It’s a blessing. It’s great to know that there are people who care,” Croon said. “For people to take notice of that and support this event with their time and their money, it means a lot to us. It makes us feel like we’re not doing the work alone.”

Delbert Anderson, a member of the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, participates in the walk every year. He said he sees the need every month when he volunteers at a nearby soup kitchen.

“There’s plenty of people that come in there that are needful,” Anderson said. “We always have a lot of people, a lot of homeless, a lot of people out of work.”

Walkers fueled up on free pancakes before setting out on the nearly four-mile trek. Miniature pony rides were a big hit with kids.

Another walker, Renee Lowery of the Easter Hill United Methodist Church, said she keeps coming back each year because it’s a good cause and a good way to exercise.

“It’s such an easy way to have raised money,” Lowery said. “It’s something that’s good for you, and on a lovely day like this, why not walk?”

Despite the chill in the morning air, the event attracted several hundred walkers from different churches, along with volunteers, businesspeople, and politicians, including Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. Although she alluded to the controversial release of documents detailing her 2001 bankruptcy filing, the mayor remained focused on the walk.

“These are the issues, the homelessness and poverty in our community, that we should be focusing on,” the mayor said. “People can try and distract… but the people of Richmond understand,” she added. “We’re an urban community that’s overcoming our collective adversity, and that’s what it’s all about. A lot of communities have a lot to learn from us.”

Chevron sponsored the walk, along with Mechanics Bank, KDIA 1640 AM, The Light 1190 AM, and Kaiser Permanente.

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