Hudson resident hungry for a special cause
Hudson - Over 40,000 people participated in the 42nd Walk for Hunger May 2 in support of organizations like Project Bread.
Project Bread is an East Boston based, nonprofit organization that began in 1969 and aids more than 400 food pantries and programs that feed nearly 554,000 people in Massachusetts who don’t have enough to eat. It also holds the “longest continual pledge walk in the country,” annually held on the first Sunday in May, according to www.projectbread.org.
Mary Walling, a Hudson resident who has raised $6,063 as of May 23, is not only one of the thousands of walkers who trek 20 miles through Boston, Brookline, Newton and Cambridge, but was part of the first group of organizers of the walk. The concept began, she said, with a group of young people attending church at the Paulist Center in Boston. There was a soup kitchen at the Center, but the group thought more could be done.
“We had a very active group of young adults,” Walling said.
The first walk took place in Quincy, and although Walling didn’t participate in the walk itself, she volunteered to give out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
In 1970, she walked the then 25-mile route and has continued to do so ever since. Walling said in all that time, she’s only failed to finish the whole walk twice: last year when she completed 13 miles and in 1998, when she was recovering from a stroke but still managed to clock 10 miles. Of the latter experience, people told her that she didn’t need to walk, but she felt it was important to do her part.
Her husband, Mike, agreed to let her do it, but with one stipulation, “I’m walking with you,” he told her.
It was fitting because her husband has been supportive of her cause since he “ran the last five blocks” with her in 1971, when they were dating.
She called the walk “well organized,” complete with security provided by Boston Major Tom Menino, and said it’s easy for anyone to do, since being able to walk is the only requirement.
Walling said she has seen the number of participants change over the years. The first walk had 2,000 people, she said, but that number has grown to 44,000.
In earlier years, the going rate for walkers was 15 cents a mile, and there were no electronic donations via the walk’s website. One year, her boss supported her and pledged $1 a mile ($25), a gesture that she called “huge.” At first only young people would take part, but now whole families and older people walk. Children don’t always make it the whole 20 miles, she said, they sometimes get a ride on Dad’s shoulders. Walkers also used to come in everyday footwear, but now running and walking shoes are much more common.
Walling’s son Jeff and daughter Kate have also taken part, and Walling looks forward to doing so with her granddaughter.
Even though much has changed, Walling said there is one constant - raising money for a cause, in which the need is getting greater.
“I had no idea I’d be walking 42 years later,” she said.
She thanked her supporters, some of whom have made donations since her first walk, and called people donating their time and money “a beautiful thing.”
For Walling, collecting money and not walking isn’t an option.
“I do have to do it,” she said. “As long as there are people who are hungry, I do.”
The reason is simple, she said.
“It’s the only real cause I have, Walling said. “It’s near and dear to my heart.”
It may appear that she’s walking the route alone, but as she meets the other walkers, she is doing it “with 40,000 of my closest friends.”
To visit Walling’s donation page, go to www.projectbread. org/goto/marywalling.