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Walkers put focus on hunger

Hundreds of people tramped through downtown Lexington on Sunday to draw attention to hunger, both globally and in their own community.

The Greater Lexington CROP Hunger Walk drew an estimated 400 walkers who hoped to raise $25,000, although the walks usually raise closer to $20,000, said coordinator Judy Ellis. More than two dozen Central Kentucky churches participated, Ellis said.

Nationally, CROP Hunger Walks are sponsored by the Church World Service and raise about $16 million annually. This is the event's 40th year.

In Lexington, one-fourth of the money raised goes to God's Pantry Food Bank for regional services, with the rest going to the Church World Service for international food aid, Ellis said.

As she watched the walkers head off, Ellis said she senses more concern this year about hunger "because of the turbulent period that we're in," the recession that has put many Americans out of work and sometimes out of their homes. Online pledges for $2,200 came in even before Sunday's walk, she said.

Local poverty bothered mother-and-daughter walkers Kim and Kristin Wemyss, both of them Lexington schoolteachers making their first hunger walk. The women said they're concerned about global hunger — Kristin's sister recently completed an eye-opening mission trip to Haiti — but they wonder whether Central Kentuckians recognize the poverty in their own back yard.

"I think because of the recession, we're more aware of the possibility of not having a meal, of having to focus on our needs as opposed to our wants," Kim Wemyss said.

"Just around the corner from a lot of comfortable Lexington neighborhoods, there are pockets of want," said Kristin Wemyss. "I teach third grade on the north side of town, and many of my students get free and reduced meals. Even though their parents are working two or three jobs, they're having a hard time supporting their families."

Robert Lodder, walking half a block behind the women, was taking a wider view. Lodder teaches chemistry, pharmacy and electrical engineering at the University of Kentucky, and he worries about the world's diminishing food supply.

"Crop yields in the last few years are decreasing while the world population continues to grow quickly," Lodder said. "We need to figure out today what we're going to do about that. If we don't come to grips with this, there will be even more instability in a world that doesn't seem very stable to begin with."