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Local groups join in fight against hunger

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Area organizations and church groups are trying to galvanize support for their efforts to address the mounting problem of hunger.

The Atlanta Community Food Bank, along with five other local, hunger-relief programs, are preparing to host the 26th Annual Hunger Walk/Run Fund-raiser.

St. Luke Lutheran Church, in McDonough, is an affiliate of one of the hunger-relief programs.

The walk/run event is scheduled to be held March 14, at Turner Field in Atlanta.

"The Hunger Walk/Run is one of our most important fund-raisers each year," said Bill Bolling, founder and executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank. "As a number of recent studies have shown, more and more people are struggling to put food on the table. The money raised at this event will help us meet this growing need here in metro Atlanta, now, and in the coming months."

The number of people needing emergency food assistance in the metro area has risen to a critical level in recent years, according to "Hunger in America 2010," a landmark study recently released by a community organization called Feeding America.

The study reports that there are 58,900 people receiving food assistance each week in a 38-county region. The region, which includes Clayton and Henry counties, is served by the Atlanta Community Food Bank. It represents a 39-percent increase in distribution since the previous study was released in 2006.

This year's Hunger Walk/Run organizers hope participants will be energized by the full scope of activities, such as an open-ropes course, golf area, and a children's obstacle course.

"Last year's event broke all records. We raised over $400,000," said Holly Royston, Hunger Run/Walk manager. "This is a fun and memorable event for everyone," Royston added. "In addition to the 5K walk and run, we're creating an exciting, festival atmosphere in [Turner Field's] Green Lot to kick off the afternoon."

Royston said walkers and runners will step off at Turner Field just outside Monument Grove, and travel a historic route that weaves through downtown Atlanta, as live performers support them along the way.

The Episcopal Charities Foundation, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, Lutheran Services of Georgia, and the St. Vincent De Paul Society are partnering with the Atlanta Community Food Bank to recruit participants.

St. Luke Lutheran Church, in McDonough, a Lutheran Services of Georgia affiliate, has participated in the annual event for the past several years, according to Mary Beth Egas, a fund-raising organizer with St. Luke Lutheran Church.

Egas said the increased need was evident in 2009, when hundreds of area residents were served through her church's outreach ministry to feed the needy. "We've more than doubled in need," Egas said. "In 2008, we fed 21 families, and helped two shelters. In 2009, we fed 53 families and supplied food for four shelters.

"Some of these people are people who our church members know -- neighbors who have lost their jobs, or people whose family members are terminally ill," she said.

Egas said she expects about 20 members of St. Luke Lutheran will form a team this year to help raise pledges for the next month's Hunger Walk/Run. "This year, our goal is $1,800," she said. "Last year, our walkers raised about $1,000. In return, we applied for a grant and received $276 [from Lutheran Services of Georgia], which went to our Thanksgiving Food Baskets, and served a total of 14 families and 76 people."

Royston said entry into the Hunger Run/Walk event begins at noon on March 14, in Turner Field's Green Lot. She encourages participants to register online at www.HWR2010.org, and to invite friends and family members to join them or make a donation. Runners can register online through March 12, or on the day of the event.

There is no fee for walkers, but a $25 donation is encouraged, she added. Runners should bring online registration confirmation with them. For more details, call (404) 892-3333, ext. 1246, or e-mail hungerwalk@acfb.org.