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Walking in Vienna to Help the World

Vienna CROP Walk is scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 12.

This year's Vienna CROP Walk has a tough act to follow. Last year's walk won an award for being the biggest rookie walk in the region, bringing together more than 200 people to raise $23,000 for charities at home and abroad.

Seventy-five percent of the money raised by CROP Walk goes to Church World Service (CWS), an international relief, development and refugee assistance ministry. The remaining 25 percent is given to Vienna's Committee for Helping Others.

Event Chairperson Betty Rahal said she is still hoping to nearly double last year's numbers at this year's walk, to be held Nov. 12 at 2 p.m.

Walkers raise money by soliciting sponsorships for walking the five-kilometer route through Vienna. The route will begin and end at Vienna Presbyterian Church, 124 Park St., N.E., and will wind past partner churches Seventh Day Adventist, Vienna Baptist and Wesley Methodist, where refreshments will be served, said Linda Gabris, one of the event planners. Afterward, refreshments will be offered at Vienna Presbyterian.

Walkers can register at www.cropwalk.org, and non-walkers can offer a sponsorship or make a donation on the Web site. Gabris said it will not be too late to register until the walk is over. "They can get sponsors and give the money later," she said.

CROP WALKS, which were started by CWS in 1947, began as a fund-raiser for the organization's Christian Rural Overseas Program, which helped farm families share their grain with the hungry in post-World War II Europe and Asia. The walks now fund a variety of the CWS's activities, from domestic emergency efforts to "many, many long-term humanitarian aid projects around the world," said Kathleen Klassen, the organization's assistant regional director for the mid-Atlantic region.

Currently, said Klassen, over 2,000 CROP Walks worldwide constitute the largest source of funding for CWS, raising about 34 percent of the organization's income. "I think the walk is a tried and true fund-raiser," she said, noting that walking serves as a symbol of solidarity with the people walkers are trying to help. "The average woman in Africa walks three and a half miles a day, just for water," she said. "I think that really catches on with a lot of people."

Gabris noted that the Committee for Helping Others uses funds from the walk to help people in the immediate area. Last year, she said, "with that money, they were able to put together more holiday packages and other things for the poor in our area," she said.

WITH TWO WEEKS left until the event, Rahal estimated that about 100 people from 10 churches and other organizations have already registered, considerably fewer than participated last year. However, she said, many of last year's participants were last-minute entries.

She also noted that last year's turnout could have resulted partly from the then-recent ravages of Hurricane Katrina. "This year, thankfully, we don't have a major disaster," she said, adding that she hoped that would not ultimately keep the event's numbers down.

The CROP Walk planners also held a benefit concert this year at Vienna Presbyterian. The event was sponsored by the Vienna Rotary Club and featured the church's Work in Progress band. Over $1,000 were raised at the event, which will supplement the funds raised by the walk.

All five Joe's Pizza locations are donating 15 percent of purchases every Sunday until Nov. 12 to the CROP Walk, if the customer shows up with a flyer for the event.

Gabris said she began working on last year's event after she heard Rahal discuss it at a meeting at Vienna Presbyterian. "It touched my heart, and I wanted to get involved," she said. "There's no reason in the world for hunger. It was just something we could do to make a dent somewhere."