WEIRTON - Kenova's Tom Knopp is doing his best to "walk out hunger," one county at a time.
The 68-year-old is 13 days into his mission to walk through all 55 West Virginia counties to build awareness of the plight of those in need of help feeding themselves and their families.
"People are suffering, really suffering," said Knopp, who on Friday walked from Municipal Plaza to Madonna High School by way of Pennsylvania Avenue. Joining him for the four-mile trek were Mayor George Kondik and Hancock County Commissioner Dan Greathouse.
'Walking Out Hunger' Friday in Weirton were, from left, Tom Knopp, director of the Kenova, W.Va., Good Samaritan Center; Hancock County Commissioner Dan Greathouse; Mayor George Kondik; and Jim Pauchnik, a member of the board of directors of the Community Bread Basket. Knopp, a 68-year-old cancer survivor, is on a walking tour of all 55 West Virginia counties to underscore the importance of food bank programs. -- Linda Harris
"There's no reason in the world people should go without in a country as rich as this."
Knopp, director of the Kenova, W.Va., Good Samaritan Center, is hoping to raise $550,000 - that's $10,000 per county - to feed the hungry in West Virginia.
"I hope people who read about it or see me on TV will support us with donations to the two major food banks in West Virginia or local groups serving the less fortunate in their city," he said.
Funds raised in Brooke and Hancock counties will go to the Community Bread Basket, which provides food for about 200 families every month. The group also assists with utilities, baby items for those in need and works as an information referral service.
Tara Sheperd, Community Bread Basket program administrator, said they've already raised a little over $1,000 locally through donations from the Renaissance Weirton Committee and Hancock County Savings Bank. They'll also be doing a tag day at nine area businesses in Weirton on May 11 with the help of volunteers from the Boy Scouts of America and several local churches.
Sheperd said 10 percent of the money collected locally will go to the Mountaineer Area Food Bank in Gassaway, which supplies the Community Bread Basket with food. Donations also may be made directly to Mountaineer Food Bank, which currently serves 48 West Virginia counties, or to the Huntington Area Food Bank, which serves Cabell, Wayne, Mason, Putnam, Lincoln, Logan and Mingo counties.
"The need can never be overstated," said the Rev. J.D. Wall of Tri-State Church of God, vice president of the Bread Basket and chairman of the Hunger Walk committee. "The need for services is ever-increasing in our community, so anything that can draw attention to the fact that people don't have to go to a big city, they can get help right here in Weirton, is great. Many families are struggling to feed their families and pay utilities, things the Bread Basket can assist with. There's lots the community can do to help meet the needs."
Knopp says it's a subject near and dear to his heart.
Growing up, he said his family received help from a small church outreach program and food pantry, adding "their generosity made a lasting (impression) on me."
He said the lesson was reinforced when he was diagnosed with terminal lymphoma at age 48.
"I'd always prided myself on paying my bills," said Knopp, a barber by trade. "But I was unable to work so I couldn't. I never missed a payment because of the generosity of the people in my community, they would come into my business and say, 'Tom can use this more than me.' It's a humbling experience to be 46 years old and not be able to care for yourself."
Cancer free for 23 years, he credits Divine Intervention with bringing him through it: One night when the future seemed particularly bleak, he said he prayed for the opportunity to spend whatever time he had left "in a way that glorifies you." Six months later his doctors told him his cancer was gone.
"When I had the lymphoma I'd thought death would be a blessing," he said. "But I didn't know what a blessing was until my healing. Then I became a servant, caring more for the less fortunate. It's truly been a blessing for me since then to be able to help the less fortunate."
(Harris can be contacted at email@example.com)