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Kenova man walking to put spotlight on hunger

Apr. 20, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Tom Knopp has heard the case against walking 1,375 miles over 55 days, but a possible $550,000 has clouded his judgment.

"My doctor discouraged me from doing it. It took me almost a year and a half to tell my wife I was going to do and she said 'Are you crazy?'," Knopp stated. "But, I feel like I'm serving a cause and doing what I'm supposed to be doing."

Knopp isn't walking for his health or personal financial gain, but to raise funds and awareness of hunger across the state of West Virginia. Beginning Monday, April 22, Knopp will embark on Walk West Virginia, aiming to walk 25 miles in each of West Virginia's 55 counties, with a goal to raise $10,000 in each. All proceeds will benefit the state's two food banks: Huntington Area Food Bank in Huntington and Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway, W.Va.

"I just have a passion, a desire to help the less fortunate in the our state. Hunger is a statewide issue, and I think it's a shame that people right here are going without," said Knopp, adding that his own family was on the receiving end of help from others when he was a child.

It is not Knopp's first walking mission. As volunteer director of the Good Samaritan Center, a food, clothing and necessities pantry in Kenova, Knopp pledged to walk one mile for every $100 donated to buy the center a new building. His total soared to 920 miles and the Good Samaritan Center had $92,000 with which to purchase a new home.

"I walked 920 miles before the money quit rolling in," Knopp said. "That was quite a hike."

On Monday, Knopp's new journey will begin. He will leave from the Cabell County Courthouse at 8:30 a.m., winding to 31st Street then on to Barboursville before ending at W.Va. 2. An individual who'll be following Knopp throughout as a safety precaution will drive him on to Point Pleasant, where the second day of his walk will begin. Knopp said counties throughout the state are already offering their support, providing lodging, food, water and companionship along his route.

"The whole thing will take 67 days, but I'll rest on Sundays," said Knopp, 68, who is traveling with eight pairs of shoes and 67 customized T-shirts provided by Glenn's Sporting Goods. "It's amazing how people have reached out to help. I've had people offer to buy me shoes and clothes, but I don't need help. It's the less fortunate out there who need the help."

Knopp encouraged every segment of each community to get involved in giving during the 67-day journey.

"There are so many things people can do to get involved. The Wayne County Board of Education has asked each child in the school system to donate a quarter. That'll accumulate to about $1,800. We're asking volunteer fire departments to do boot drives and for churches to take up love offerings. Even if it's just loose change, just a dollar, it all adds up," Knopp said.

Knopp's journey will conclude on Monday, June 24, in Kenova, where friends and family are preparing a celebration. Knopp, who said he doesn't require much sleep and eats light throughout the day before an evening meal, has already made one decision for the end of this journey.

"I don't intend to walk anymore after this," Knopp said, laughing. "But, I have big dreams for this event and with God, all things are possible."

To track Knopp's daily progress or inquire about making a contribution, visit walkingouthunger.org.

Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.