Car horns, cheers and applause rang out across the parking lot at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Vineyard Haven Sunday afternoon, as a socially distanced crowd of food activists celebrated the conclusion of the 30th annual Martha’s Vineyard CROP Hunger Walk.

Traditionally held as a group walk, this year’s fundraiser began Oct. 1 as a virtual walk-a-thon, with supporters taking part individually or in family groups both on and off the Island. As of Sunday, they had raised more than $16,600 for hunger relief.

“I think that’s a pretty good draw for not being able to get together in person,” said Nate Schaff, youth minister for Good Shepherd Parish and master of ceremonies for Sunday’s event.

In its first 29 years, the Vineyard walk has raised $533,407 for hunger relief, Mr. Schaff told his scattered but enthusiastic listeners. Last year was its most successful yet, raising more than $34,000, he added.

In addition to celebrating walkers’ efforts, Sunday’s gathering recognized key local supporters including the Athearn family of Morning Glory Farm, principal honorees of the 2020 walk.

“Morning Glory is an incredibly valuable partner and behind-the-scenes produce provider to the various food distribution programs on the Island,” Mr. Schaff said, as three generations of Athearns briefly left their vehicles to receive a certificate of honor.

Mr. Schaff also noted the family’s donations to the Island Grown Gleaning program and Morning Glory’s retail support of food stamp recipients, as well as Jim Athearn’s work with the Vineyard Conservation Society and fellow farmers to preserve open land for agriculture and other uses. 

Other Islanders honored Sunday included Ann Fielder, for her longstanding dedication to the annual walk.

“Beginning in 1993 Ann has been a consistent presence on the crop walks and at age 95 she is still walking,” Mr. Schaff said, as Ms. Fielder came forward to accept her certificate.

While the formal walk-a-thon ended Sunday, Mr. Schaff said the 2020 Vineyard walk will continue accepting online donations through Oct. 31 on its website,

Twenty-five per cent of the proceeds from the CROP Hunger Walk remain on Island, where they support the Island Food Pantry and similar programs, Mr. Schaff said. The other 75 per cent goes to Church World Services for international hunger work.

According to the website, the Vineyard walk is part of a nationwide network that originated in 1947, when American farmers were asked to contribute food and seeds to help hungry Europeans and Asians in the wake of World War II. It became known as the CROP Project, for Christian Rural Overseas Program, and local walks to support it began in the late 1960s.