As a member of St. Michael Parish, Milwaukee, with a loving husband and two beautiful children, Norma Duckworth is blessed with a comfortable home and food to eat. She is a familiar face at her parish and in the community, volunteering whenever she has a free moment, and even when she doesn’t. Because of her past, she is driven by a spirit that propels her to help others.
When she was a girl living in Mexico, Duckworth remembers many nights where she went to bed hungry, struggling to sleep because the gnawing in her stomach was so agonizing. There was no food or milk to quell the cries of the children. They were all starving.
The rich and poor worlds collided the day an 8-year-old Duckworth immigrated to the United States with her family in the late 1980s.
“It was a while before I knew that we wouldn’t starve,” she said. “I think that’s because both of my parents were able to get jobs and their hard work made us feel secure that we had food, not like in Mexico. My mom worked in housekeeping and my dad started as a dishwasher and worked his way up to owning his own landscaping business. In Mexico, only my dad had a job, but my mom was not educated, so she stayed home and life was very difficult.”
Because of her volunteer spirit and her firsthand knowledge of hunger, Duckworth was named director and organizer of this year’s Greater Milwaukee CROP (Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty) Hunger Walk at the city’s lakefront this Sunday afternoon, Oct. 13.
This is the 28th year the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee has organized the walk to collect food donations for the Hunger Task Force and monetary donations to support international, local and U.S. hunger and poverty relief, disaster relief and economic development.
Benefitting organizations include Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Medical Mission Board, Heifer International, Haitian Health Foundations, and Catholic Near East Welfare Association. These are all areas of great need, explained Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki.
“These organizations provide critical relief to people regardless of religion or ethnicity and do so in a manner consistent with Catholic moral teaching,” he said in a letter supporting the CROP walk. “Often CROP is the only joint ecumenical activity in the community. Twenty-five percent of the funds raised through CROP walks remains in the community to support local anti-hunger and anti-poverty efforts.”
Coming to America and feeling secure and well-fed motivated Duckworth to give back to others.
“I have always had something in my heart to give back, but didn’t really know the ways to do so, so I just began volunteering in my community,” she said. “I began to see the needs not only locally and nationally, but internationally, too, and started seeing the needs of people going through issues of poverty and hunger. I wanted to find the best way to advocate and build awareness and make a difference everywhere.”
After observing her in action for years, Tom Heinen, executive director of the Interfaith Conference and a St. Michael parishioner, realized Duckworth, a regular face in the annual walk, would be a good fit for the job as CROP Hunger Walk director.
“I knew that with her background and personality that Norma would be perfect for this job, and she has a real spirit when she talks, and when people meet her, they would have no idea that she came from a hunger background,” he said. “She has a real spirit in her eyes, charges forward and believes in her heart of hearts that you can do anything with God’s help. She works hard and has made so many connections in the community, and reached out to the Hispanic population; and because she has an African American husband, she has reached out to that community as well. St. Michael is a very culturally diverse parish and she is comfortable with a milieu of all cultures, so she is perfect for this position.”
The CROP walk’s success is important to Duckworth because many countries do not offer government assistance to assuage hunger.
“People depend on whatever is raised to help them, and also through self-sufficient programs in regards to gardening and other programs that they have for women,” she explained. “Internationally, women who are not educated have little opportunity to make money, so it is very important to bring awareness to educational programs. There are still children starving and though there is hunger and poverty in this town, people all over rely on what we do.”