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NYCers Walk To Benefit Buddhist Global Relief Fund

On Saturday, October 29 at 9 AM, New Yorkers will gather at Riverside Park and begin a 4-mile walk with a special purpose: helping fund programs to feed the hungry in Cambodia, Haiti and India.

As of writing, over $8000 dollars has been raised by sponsors of the NYC walkers this year. The donations will go to Buddhist Global Relief. According to BGR, chronic hunger and malnutrition affects about 800 million people worldwide.

The Chairman of BGR is the Brooklyn-born Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi, who founded the organization in 2008. “In a world in which there is so much violence, so much senseless killing, this is a true miracle,” proclaims Venerable Bodhi in an official statement to the walkers. “It is a step, a small but decisive step, toward creating a world of peace and mutual care in which we can all live together in harmony as fellow travelers on the same fragile planet.”

The first walk was a single event in New Jersey in 2010. Today, the walk takes place in 10 cities across the country, including Santa Clara, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Houston. According to Carla Prater, Assistant Executive Director of BGR, the 2015 Walks raised a total of $124,736.

The organizer of the NYC walk is Joanna Foo, in her second year of overseeing the event. She observes that though most people want to help, they really don’t know how, which is where organizations like BGR come in. “The heart may be in the right place, but the hands don’t know what to do,” says Joanna. “It’s about compassionate action. It’s good to be kind and compassionate in your daily life, but to make a difference we have to act.”

In addition to its mission of alleviating hunger and addressing the causes behind it, BGR also works to provide education and career training to young women from families in serious financial need. Additionally, they have projects in place to deal with climate change, supporting sustainable agriculture in regions like Bangladesh, Kenya, Vietnam and Cambodia. Recently the organization raised upwards of $18,000 to assist regions of Haiti affected by Hurricane Matthew.

Joanna notes that the Buddhist Global Relief is not a typical nonprofit: “BGR is essentially run by volunteers,” she says. “According to the 2014 Annual Report, 92 percent of the money raised goes to our programs in various parts of the world and America. For me as a person who supports charities, it’s amazing. I want to see the money go directly to the people.”

Joanna explains that although the mission may be Buddhist in origin, it is truly for everyone to contribute to and benefit from. “You’ll notice the vegetarian lunch is hosted by a Catholic Church (Holy Trinity),” she notes. “They open their premises and kitchen to us every year. Last year, some of our funds went to a wonderful tiny organization called Muslim Women in Research & Development. The woman who runs it (Sultana Ocasio) has a pantry out of the South Bronx, for anyone who needs to be fed. We really look at where the chronic hunger and malnutrition need is. If we’re going to stay true to our message of compassionate action, you can’t pick and choose.”

Joanna is participating in a plan to help the NYC arm of the program expand. “I want to set up a calendar of events,” she explains. “Right now BGR has two major events per year: the walk in October, and in April we have a wonderful Jazz concert. But in between, it’s kind of quiet. So I’d like to have one event per month in New York City. It can be Venerable Bodhi coming in to talk, as he’s a well-respected Buddhist teacher and monastic, whose warmth and openness engages Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike; we can have a board director from a local charity come to BRG, so we can see how we can help them further; there are volunteers with very compelling stories about what it takes to make a difference as a volunteer. The reason why I want to create micro-events is because over time, we want to create more momentum.”

The New York walk will begin with registration in Riverside Park, followed by a moving meditation and a Welcome Message. The walk itself will commence at 10:15 at the North Lawn at 79th St, and take the group past the Dinosaur Playground, the 101st St Soccer Field, the Skate Park and the Bird Sanctuary. The group will then turn back around 119th St and walk along Riverside Drive, finishing up with the Vegetarian Lunch and talks from guest speakers at Holy Trinity.

“When you do the walk it’s very meditative, because you think about the ones you’re walking for,” says Joanna. “And when you interact with the volunteers and Buddhist practitioners, it can be a very powerful experience.”

To register for the walk, volunteer to help or donate, click here.

--Jim Catapano

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