Interfaith Walk for Hunger Breaks Fundraising Record in Its 12th Year (Updated 10/21/21)
Roughly over one hundred local residents and members of houses of worship (and a few of their dogs) met at Westwood’s Temple Beth David on Sunday, October 17, 2021, for the most successful Interfaith Walk for Hunger in the annual event’s twelve year history. Participants raised $13,687, an amount that is almost double what the Walk raised in 2020, announced event co-organizer Dr. Jeff Greenwald.
Among the participants were residents of Westwood, Norwood, Dedham, Canton, Sharon and Mansfield. Shortly after 2 p.m., they began their three mile trek, en masse, from Temple Beth David to the Oak Street neighborhood, under a bright blue sky in the crisp and cool autumn air.
Participants were individuals or teams, supported by financial sponsors. They walked to benefit Project Bread, a state-wide anti-hunger organization that provides food relief to hungry children and families throughout Massachusetts. Some people brought donations of food for local food pantries.
The event, organized by Temple Beth David’s Dr. Greenwald and Ms. Connie Rizoli, has grown considerably since its beginnings as a Bar Mitzvah service project a decade ago. In 2011, a young man named Daniel Cook and his mother, Amy Cook, reached out to First Parish of Westwood to make the traditional Bar Mitzvah project into an interfaith activity. The following year, temple member Jason Allen and his parents Peggy and Howie Allen continued the interfaith tradition for Jason’s 2012 Bar Mitzvah project. A good idea had taken hold and the interfaith theme grew.
Ms. Nelofer Humayon is a walker from the Islamic Center of New England in Sharon. Ms. Humayon first got involved in the Walk five years ago when the mother of her son’s friend invited her to join. She thought it was a wonderful idea and got her mosque involved. Ms. Humayon has participated in the Interfaith Walk for Hunger ever since. This year, her son, Momin, volunteered as a guide to point walkers along their designated path.
Imam Abdul Rahman from Ms. Humayon’s mosque was one of the community leaders presenting opening remarks for this year’s Walk. “A person can’t be a believer on a full stomach while his or her neighbor is hungry,” he said. “Let’s pray to God to make it $24,000 next year,” he added, referencing a hope that next year’s fundraiser similarly doubles the funds collected in its preceding year.
Other local faith communities represented in the 2021 Interfaith Walk for Hunger included St. John’s Episcopal in Westwood, St. Margaret Mary in Westwood, First Congregational Church Norwood, St. Susanna Parish in Dedham, First Parish of Westwood, and Temple Beth David in Canton. Participation was not limited to houses of worship, however. It was open to the general public as well.
Mr. Lou Rizoli, a member of St. Margaret Mary Parish who is married to Temple Beth David member Ms. Rizoli, was the one who spearheaded the fundraising. Gold sponsors Dedham Savings and Wegmans again participated as in prior years. But this year, he said that donations from individuals and small groups greatly surpassed what has been given in the past.
“It’s a tribute to the community that everyone realized that a lot of people really are in need because of COVID,” he said.
Ms. Erin McAleer, president and chief executive officer of Project Bread said, “We have always had a hunger crisis here in Massachusetts. When we convened here three years ago, about 8 percent of households with children in Massachusetts were struggling to put food on the table. What COVID did was it exposed and exacerbated this crisis.”
With the pandemic, she said the percentage of affected families has now doubled. Families who struggle financially tend to pay their rent, heating bills, and childcare costs first before paying for food, she said. While Project Bread has estimated that 1 in 6 households in Massachusetts is facing hunger, for those with children, it is about 1 in 5.
“Right now, about 17 percent of households in Massachusetts with kids are struggling to afford food,” she said. “There is more than enough food in America and Massachusetts to make sure no one goes hungry. . . . Hunger is solvable," she remarked.
Westwood Food Pantry Board Member Trish Tucke gave another perspective. “For us, it’s not the kids, it’s the elderly that are really struggling to make ends meet. Everything just goes up in price dramatically and their benefits do not.”
Speaking in front of three tables covered with about thirty grocery bags full of donated food, Ms. Tucke expressed gratitude to the Westwood community. “We feed 55 to 65 households a month and they probably average about 500 bags of groceries per month. Everything that you’re doing is just terrific. And I know all the local pantries would say the same thing. A big thank you.”
Westwood’s St. Margaret Mary Parish assigned its confirmation class the task of collecting food donations and raising money for the event, noted Mr. Rizoli. Contributions from new participants also helped. Mr. Rizoli pointed to Temple Beth David in Canton which raised $536 this year, its first year of participation.
While Westwood’s Rabbi Karen Citrin contributed opening remarks to the event, her husband and co-Rabbi Micah Citrin provided music at its end. Playfully nicknamed “Rockin’ Rabbi Micah,” the rabbi’s guitar playing and vocals added a celebratory mood to the outdoor socializing that followed the event.
Ms. Humayon perhaps best summed the sentiments of many. “The fact that we can be different but still can come together on common ground to help the needy and hungry is a noble cause. I’m proud to represent my Center and hope more people join every year.”
Updated 10/18/2021 at 12:20 p.m. A correction has been made to identify fundraiser Mr. Lou Rizoli as a member of St. Margaret Mary Parish rather than Temple Beth David. Together with wife Connie Rizoli of Temple Beth David, they are living the interfaith story through their marriage. Additionally, Temple Beth David in Canton was added to the list of participating houses of worship. Lastly, minor edits have been made to increase clarity which do not affect the facts reported.
Updated 10/18/2021 at 9:57 p.m. A last name has been provided for Daniel Cook and Amy Cook.
Updated 10/21/21 at 1:15 p.m. The estimated participant count has been updated to over one hundred people.
Thanks to the organizers and participants of the 12th Annual Interfaith Walk for Hunger for providing information and interviews for this article.