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Project Bread looking to do more with aid

As 43,000 at Walk for Hunger raise $3.6m, nonprofit seeks an alternative to handouts

A walker dressed as the 1950s TV character Gumby was among the thousands who  trekked 20 miles to raise funds in the 44th annual Walk for Hunger in Boston Sunday.

dina rudick/globe staff

A walker dressed as the 1950s TV character Gumby was among the thousands who trekked 20 miles to raise funds in the 44th annual Walk for Hunger in Boston Sunday.

Louise Sheehan’s feet throbbed as she crossed the finish line on Boston Common Sunday, heralded by a thunderous trio of wooden taiko drums.

As the percussion muffled her cheers, she hoped that this year - her second making the 20-mile trek - her efforts, and those of thousands of others, would be enough to quell the Bay State’s grumbling stomachs.

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For the first time, the $3.6 million raised by Sheehan and about 43,000 other participants in the 44th annual Walk for Hunger will be spent beyond the usual list of food pantries and charities that benefit from the event, put on by Project Bread, organizers said Sunday.

This year, the nonprofit is planning to fund another level of aid, somewhere between handouts and full-priced food.

Ben (left) and Alex Haswell, 9, were among the thousands participating in the 44th annual Walk for Hunger Sunday. The event raises money for more than 450 emergency food programs.

dina rudick/globe staff

Ben (left) and Alex Haswell, 9, were among the thousands participating in the 44th annual Walk for Hunger Sunday. The event raises money for more than 450 emergency food programs.

“You get a very strong feeling that you’re not just giving a man a fish,’’ said Ellen Parker, the organization’s executive director. “You teach them to fish.’’

Parker said this may include using Walk for Hunger proceeds on community gardens, food cooperatives, or for produce-purchasing clubs that allow food aid recipients to buy at lower prices.

“There are more people struggling to pay full price,’’ Parker said.

‘I could see a lot more people reaching out for help that really need it if the stigma is taken away.’

Rick Doane Interfaith Social Services in Quincy
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The plans are still being formed, she said.

The Walk for Hunger, which winds through Boston, Brookline, Newton, Watertown, and Cambridge, was started in 1969 and raises money for more than 450 emergency food programs throughout the state, including food pantries, schools, and other food-distribution programs.

Rick Doane, the director of Interfaith Social Services in Quincy, which receives money from the walk, said that the new food programs being considered would attract some people in need who may have negative feelings about receiving free food.

“There’s a stigma about charity,’’ said Doane, pushing his young daughter in a stroller. “I could see a lot more people reaching out for help that really need it if the stigma is taken away.’’

Many who walked or jogged along the 20-mile course - which began on the Common, stretched around the city, and ended where it began - say the need to address hunger across the Bay State has grown in recent years.

“I live in Worcester and there’s a lot of people I know that don’t have a lot of food,’’ said Pauline Atherley, 54.

“It’s very frustrating to see.’’

Sheehan, a Tewksbury resident, said there has been a greater media focus on hunger in recent years, so she recruited her husband and co-workers to walk the 20 miles.

“I started seeing a lot of stuff on TV and you feel bad for children, children starving,’’ Sheehan said, adding that her husband, who slipped away after the walk to hunt down a juicy hamburger and beer, joined her for the first time this year.

Cindy Butler, 29, of Foxborough, said she first participated when she was 8 and has since taken part in 15 walks.

This year, she walked half the course with her 10-year-old daughter, Samantha.

“I always try to help out,’’ she said. “We donate food, too.’’

Samantha, peering out from beneath a Walk for Hunger baseball cap Sunday, enthusiastically added that she recently gave her brown-bag lunch to a hungry classmate.

“I donated my lunch to a kid who forgot their lunch,’’ she said. “It felt really good.’’

Alexander C. Kaufman can be reached at akaufman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AlexCKaufman.
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