CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Tom Knopp had already walked about 800 miles through 41 counties when he arrived at Manna Meal soup kitchen in Charleston on a rainy Friday afternoon.
Forty-seven days ago, Knopp, director of the Good Samaritan Center in Kenova, embarked on a "Walking Out Hunger" tour through every West Virginia county to raise money and awareness about hunger.
Knopp said the journey has been inspirational and emotional. "You meet some wonderful people and see some sad sights," he said.
Knopp, who covers about 25 miles each day, aims to raise about $10,000 from each county for local community food pantries and the two statewide food banks.
Knopp said that hunger has become an even more serious problem since the recession.
The Census Bureau has found that 17.5 percent of West Virginians live below the poverty level. Results indicate that about 21 percent of West Virginia households are "food insecure."
And the number of hungry people only continues to grow more and more every year, Knopp said.
As director of the Good Samaritan Center, Knopp has seen the program expand from serving only 19 families in the late 1990s to up to 130 families today.
But Knopp soon realized that Wayne County is not the only place where people suffer from chronic hunger. "It's the whole state of West Virginia," Knopp said.
He subsequently embarked on a statewide mission to shed light on the endemic problem.
Doctors have told Knopp, a cancer survivor, not to embark on the tour. But he said they simply strengthened his resolve to continue the mission.
He hopes his walk will prompt communities to donate food or offer reduced prices for regional food banks.
Knopp understands from personal experience how important food banks are to the community since his mother and grandmother both relied on them to provide food for their family.
"I was born into a family that had very little," he said.
And Knopp turned to his regional food bank again when he was diagnosed with terminal lymphoma and had to move to the Huntington Hospice in 1990.
"I had very little to live on," he said. "The food bank helped me through."