As a college student at DePauw University, Adam Brok wanted to donate to the charities and social issue groups that visited campus, but faced the same problem of so many students: “These are all great causes, but I don’t have any money.”
After graduating this spring, Brok decided to take matters into his own hands — beginning on Aug. 1, he is walking from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to raise funds and awareness of homelessness and hunger in Pennsylvania.
That’s right; he’s walking.
Twenty-two year old Brok left from the Jubilee Soup Kitchen in the Hill District and will end his walk at the Women of Change Shelter in Philadelphia. It’s a 365-mile trek, and Brok plans to walk between 12 and 35 miles each day, stopping in small towns and rest areas along the way.
“I want to raise a lot of money, but also raise awareness,” said Brok on Monday as he approached Saltsburg, about 50 miles from Pittsburgh. “People like to complain and lament instead of actually trying to address problems themselves. Maybe this will motivate people to be a little bit more proactive.”
There are about 30,000 homeless children in Pennsylvania, according to the Just Harvest Education Fund, and 49.1 million Americans without dependable access to enough food to ensure healthy living. With his cross-state walk, Brok hopes to chip into those figures by raising awareness.
Brok’s walk began with about 18 friends and family along with him, and he expects different groups to join him along the way. The staff of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, based in Harrisburg, may walk with him when he reaches the state capitol, Brok said.
The idea for his walk was born in downtown Philadelphia, where Brok spent a semester.
“You’d see homeless people laying on the sidewalks asking for food all the time. You couldn’t go more than a block without seeing a homeless person,” he said.
But while a walk across the state may seem drastic, to Brok, it felt logical.
“I like walking and being active and challenging myself. Being that I’m from Pittsburgh and have experience in Philadelphia, this would be a simple, meaningful way to raise awareness for something I’m concerned about,” said Brok.
Organizations like the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank were more than happy to help Brok get started. The money he raised — and continues to raise as he walks — will be donated to food banks and shelters throughout the state.
“It means a lot to us in terms of his willingness to draw attention to hunger,” said Cindy Moore, chief outreach officer of the GPCFB. “Times call for extraordinary measures. The concept he had about walking across the state to draw attention — it’s a wonderful thing.”
Brok’s father Richard agrees, but still approached his son’s walk with natural parental trepidation.
“He’s not at a point where he asks permission, he just let us know,” said Richard. “He’s always thought outside the box and always sought challenges. Not attention, just challenges.”
With his son now well on his way — at press time, Brok was leaving Black Lick, Indiana County, where he slept at a shelter — nerves are pacified.
“There are people in our congregation who were very concerned,” said Richard, a member of Rodef Shalom Congregation. “One said [to Adam], ‘Your mission is to come back safely, and if you do I’ll give to your cause.’”
Brok, for one, doesn’t seem too worried. If anything, he’s enchanted by the prospect of such a challenge. To account for the hills and long daily walks, Brok packed light, carrying with him only a backpack with an extra pair of shoes, some clothing, food, books and a copy of the Tanakh.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s definitely doable,” said Brok. “I just have to keep going, doing it each day again and again.”
Brok planned his route with the help of Google Maps and PennDOT employees, who alerted him to the dangers of certain roads and assisted him in plotting a course mostly free of major roads. Brok picked towns to stop every night and successfully arranged housing in each. His night in Saltsburg, for example, was spent sleeping at a local pastor’s house after miles walking along the Westmoreland Heritage Trail.
Brok launched a blog in June to chronicle the preparation for his journey, on which he described his excitement and kept a log of his progress. One post even listed the directions for his trip — all 282 of them. His entry posted at the end of August 1 read “Today was a pretty awesome day. The walk definitely got off to a great start.”
As money continues to pour in from local supporters (donations can be made at pittsburghfoodbank.org), Brok already sees his walk as a personal and communal success. Not surprisingly, so does Maura Rodgers of the GPCFB.
“Word is getting around. Adam is inspiring a citizen movement,” said Rodgers. “He’s someone who’s really taking a stand. It’s all about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
More than collecting funds, however, Brok is concerned with simple awareness of local hunger and homelessness issues.
“There are a lot of subtle aspects of poverty. There are people here who are really hungry, but you wouldn’t be able to tell,” said Brok, who calls such people ‘the invisible homeless.’ “Just because it’s not in your face doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist.”
Brok hopes that his walk inspires people to donate their time as well as money, recognizing that many Pittsburghers have more of the former than latter.
“This didn’t cost me much to put together,” he said. “Walking is pretty free.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com.)