Margaret Alexander told her family Sunday she was bent on making the 2-mile trek without her wheelchair.
After all, the 99-year-old Baton Rouge woman has participated in hunger walks free of walking aids for more than two decades.
“I’ve been doing this forever,” she said, smiling.
Alexander joined more than 300 people Sunday afternoon at the Catholic Life Center for the second annual Baton Rouge Hunger Walk.
The event raised money to benefit Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, The Holy Grill and the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank.
Participants from across the Baton Rouge area donated money and canned goods for the event. All proceeds stay in the community to fight hunger and poverty, organizers said.
“It’s about coming together and giving back to the less fortunate,” said the Rev. Robin McCullough-Bade, a Hunger Walk planner and executive director of the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge.
On a brisk autumn afternoon, participants marched in windbreakers and long-sleeve T-shirts, some locking arms along the way.
The walk began at the Catholic Life Center on Acadian Thruway and looped north toward Catholic High School and back.
Baton Rouge police cordoned off traffic while volunteers served water at stops along the route. Several members of the LSU women’s basketball team joined in the march.
The event previously had been part of Crop Walk, a national anti-hunger initiative, but the federation last year opted to localize the event to keep proceeds in Baton Rouge.
“We decided that because we have such a strong food bank and our needs are so known in our community, we wanted to have 100 percent stay locally,” McCullough-Bade said.
It was not clear Sunday exactly how much money participants raised, but she estimated several thousand dollars. Participants were encouraged to donate at least $10, she said.
But for many in attendance, the walk was more about raising awareness than just food or money.
“People don’t understand how many children don’t get good, balanced meals,” said Susan Fogleman, 68, Baton Rouge. “Hopefully this makes them think about that.”
Hunger in Baton Rouge is more widespread than many people realize, said Michael Manning, CEO of the Baton Rouge Food Bank.
“I don’t think folks always understand it could be their neighbor who needs us,” he said. “Or even them.”
As in many parts of the United States, poverty levels are on the rise in the Baton Rouge area. The percentage of East Baton Rouge Parish families in poverty increased from 14 percent in 2012 to 14.3 percent in 2013, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Tonia Causey, longtime cook at The Holy Grill, a feeding site in the Zion City neighborhood sponsored by the federation, has seen an uptick in traffic at the grill.
“In the summertime, I serve between 100 and 120 kids daily,” she said. “To get a nutritious meal, they really appreciate it.”
After the walk, volunteers served jambalaya and handed out prizes to the biggest donors.
Alexander’s congregation, Lutheran Church of Our Savior, brought 17 people and raised $810 dollars.
While a few recent stumbles kept her confined to her wheelchair for the walk — just to be safe — Alexander, who turns 100 in June, said she’s already looking forward to the next walk.
“I could have gone farther,” she said, “I’m ready to do it again.”
For more information on the Baton Rouge Food Bank, call (225) 359-9940 or visit www.br foodbank.org.