350-400 join in CROP Walk at Winthrop to raise money, food

Peyton Drake won’t let anything slow him down. At 92, age hasn’t dented his enthusiasm for the annual CROP Walk at Winthrop University. Neither has a string of health problems since he was diagnosed with liver cancer seven years ago.

“This year I’ve got a cane because I’ve got an enlarged heart,” Drake said, lining up with other walkers to set off on the 3.5-mile route through downtown. “But the cancer really didn’t bother me.”

Drake missed the first Eastern York County CROP Walk back in 1978, but he walked in the next 36, whether it was sunny and warm or overcast and rainy, as it was Sunday when between 350 and 400 walkers of all ages gathered in front of Dinkins Hall for a trek through downtown.

Organized by the Wesley Foundation, the campus Methodist ministry, the walk collects canned goods and monetary donations every year to feed the hungry locally and worldwide through the Church World Service. Drake has become one of CROP Walk’s most prolific fundraisers, raising $2,132 for this year’s walk.

“I think it’s the best thing going,” he said. “It’s very well run, and it’s for a good cause.”

Winthrop’s CROP Walk is the oldest of its kind in the state, and together with its close cousin, the Western York County CROP Walk held in York, has raised $700,000 for food aid, all of it generated by walkers and volunteers.

“Some folks come with $5, and some have given over $1,000,” said the Rev. Ricky Howell, director and pastor of the Winthrop Wesley Foundation. “Last year, we raised $21,000, and this year our goal is $23,000.”

Of all the money raised by the CROP Walk, 75 percent is distributed by the multi-denominational Church World Service to fund ministries in 72 countries worldwide. The other 25 percent is spent to feed the hungry locally through Hope House in Rock Hill, PATH food pantry in York, the Fort Mill Care Center, Pilgrim’s Inn and the York County Council on Aging’s Meals on Wheels program.

“It was started by ministers and farmers after World War II ... the farmers would tithe some of their crops to Europe,” said Frances “Weenie” Daniel, treasurer of the CROP Walk committee.

Winthrop’s walk was founded by the campus ministries serving Baptists, Catholics and Presbyterians, but Methodist minister Richard Brabham was its main organizer for 20 years, and his successors still fill that role today.

“I don’t know if the bishop knows that when he assigns them, but we consider it part of the job description,” Daniel said. “It started out small, but now it’s probably the largest one in the state.”

Over time, the CROP Walk has become a multi-generational tradition. Drake’s children and grandchildren have all done the CROP Walk with him. Ashley Moore came to this year’s walk with a group from St. John’s United Methodist Church, including her 14-year-old son Patrick and 11-year-old Mattie Jane.

“We’ve done this for years. She was in a wagon the first time we did it, just a tiny little thing,” Moore said of her daughter. This year’s weather didn’t deter the family from walking, either.

“At least it’s not too hot, it’s not pouring down rain,” she said. “We’d still do it even if it was.”

The turnout was down slightly from last year due to the weather, but organizers weren’t too upset by the abstentions.

“If you didn’t walk, that’s all right,” Daniel said. “If you signed up, we’ll still find you and get the money.”