Buddhists Walk Against Hunger

  • At Riverside Park in Manhattan, 200 people participated in the annual "Walk to Feed the Hungry" organized by Buddhist Global Relief. (Photo by Gabe Carroll for Voices of NY)

[Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect more recent information about donations.]

Around 200 people came together on Saturday morning, Oct. 29, in Riverside Park for the seventh annual “Walk to Feed the Hungry” organized by Buddhist Global Relief, a Buddhist NGO.

Participants congregated at Riverside Park’s North Lawn before marching four miles through the park and then east to Holy Trinity Church at 213 West 82nd St. where a lunch and reception were held.

The walk is one of 10 being held around the U.S. over the course of several weeks, with some being held internationally as well. Participants in the New York walk included both people born into Buddhist families of Asian descent and people born into other faith communities who embraced Buddhism as adults. Many of the people present were practitioners of meditation who did not necessarily identify as Buddhists.

Buddhist communities and meditation groups from around New York and the tri-state area endorsed the walk, including the New York and Staten Island Buddhist Viharas (largely representing the Sinhalese-speaking Sri Lankan population of New York), the Village Zendo, the New York Insight Meditation Society and the Chuang Yen Monastery. Buddhist monastics and clergy from both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions were in attendance, including Rev. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki, president of the Buddhist Council of New York, and the Buddhist community clergy liaison for the NYPD.

Ib’nallah Kazi came all the way from Newark. Though he isn’t Buddhist, he came along with the Newark Center for Meditative Culture. Kazi said that he’s come to the annual event for several years and really enjoys the diverse group of people who attend every year. He also said that doing something that he loves, which is being outdoors, and helping people who are in need means a lot to him.

“This is the bottom line, you gotta have food, clothing, shelter, otherwise you’re kind of just thinking about yourself,” he said. “When you can get those things secured then you can think ‘OK how can I help other people?’.”

Bhikkhu Bodhi, a Buddhist monk from Brooklyn, founded Buddhist Global Relief in 2008. An all-volunteer organization, it is supported by diverse Buddhist communities, often called sanghas by Buddhists themselves. BGR’s website lists support for humanitarian efforts around the world, including projects in India, Bangladesh, Haiti, Vietnam, Cambodia and Sudan.

“Primarily the focus is feeding people,” said BGR volunteer and march organizer Regina Valdez.

Valdez said that BGR also supports sustainable farming, communities coping with climate change, the education of women and young girls and sustainable employment in the developing world.

“We partner with organizations on the ground, and funnel the funds to them,” Valdez said.

The walk highlighted the increasing visibility of Buddhist and Buddhist-inspired social work projects in the New York area. Zen monastic and chef Daiken Nelson, whose Mandala Café project offers culinary training to homeless and unemployed New Yorkers, walked and was a featured speaker at the reception.

Speaking of Buddhist involvement in social work before the walk, Nelson said that Buddhists see it as “an extension of their practice, getting off the [meditation] cushion.”

The New York walk raised more than $35,000, much of which is destined to the Muslim Women’s Institute for Research and Development in the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx, which is the focus of local BGR support. Institute representative Sultana Ocasio was on hand to participate in the walk and thank BGR for its support.

“We are all in this together,” she said, addressing the walkers.

Community Affairs Unit senior advisor Sarah Sayeed, a Highbridge native herself, conveyed a message of thanks from Mayor de Blasio at the post-walk gathering.

“I also want to offer a personal thank you to the Buddhist community of New York City and beyond,” she said.

“You are among the many diverse communities that does the work that embodies the compassion and the teachings of mindfulness.”

Sayeed also conveyed the importance of so many different groups coming together, saying that they represented a great part of interfaith communities across the city.

“Thank you for anchoring New York City in these principles,” she said.

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