By Emma Castleberry
On their first date in downtown Asheville several years ago, Keeka and Micah Grant-Tomlinson (now married) discovered they shared a dream: thru-hiking a long-distance trail. “By the time we met, we were bursting with enthusiasm for our thru-hiking ambitions,” says Keeka. “Discovering in each other someone we could potentially hike these trails with drew us together and formed the foundation of our relationship.”
This year, the pair is making that dream a reality by hiking the Appalachian Trail together. But they’re taking a unique approach to what they recognize as a privileged endeavor. “The resources it takes, the ability to save up money and be able to not work for six months—maybe even more—means that thru hiking can be not only physically challenging but financially challenging as well,” says Micah.
Before leaving for the hike, Keeka and Micah both worked for MANNA FoodBank. “After two plus years of working at MANNA, bearing witness to the need in WNC and watching it increase during the pandemic, we felt it only right to harness our dream as a fundraiser for this incredible organization,” says Keeka.
Thus was born Hiking for Hunger. “We feel that the Hiking for Hunger ‘fund-racer’ model is a creative solution to remotely engage donors,” says Keeka. Through this model, donors are encouraged to ‘race’ the hikers by beating them to their financial goal before they finish their physical goal. Hiking for Hunger has a fundraising goal of $8,772: $4 per mile of the 2,193-mile-long Appalachian Trail. That amount would help provide more than 35,000 meals to families in our region. “In this time of heightened need, where we’ve seen a 70 percent increase in people seeking the support of MANNA’s services, we feel that this fundraiser can help bring awareness to the need present across our Western North Carolina communities,” says Keeka.
The partnership with MANNA was organic not only because of the couple’s professional background with the organization but also because of the deep connection between nutritious food and physical activity. “Their passion for people having access to the food they need to live and thrive carried over naturally to their passion and dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail,” says Kara Irani, communications director for MANNA. “Food is key to fueling our lives. It affects how we live, how we work and learn, our day-to-day health and our long-term wellbeing. And ‘food as fuel’ is especially true for what Micah and Keeka have undertaken.”
Hiking for Hunger ties in well to the launch of MANNA’s newest campaign, Outpace Hunger, where anyone can sign up to do fun outdoor activities and help tackle food insecurity. Individuals or groups register to be a part of the Outpace Hunger community, then choose an activity and goal, and garner donation support from family and friends through a personalized Outpace Hunger webpage. “Hiking for Hunger is about all of us taking this journey together to support our local communities,” says Keeka. “Whether that’s through donating to the cause, spreading the word far and wide, or getting out and doing your own solidarity hike, it is a united effort in the fight to end hunger.”
For more information or to donate to Hiking for Hunger, visit HikingforHunger.org. For more information about MANNA’s Outpace Hunger campaign, visit MANNAFoodBank.org/outpace-hunger. If you or someone you know is struggling to afford groceries, call the MANNA Food HelpLine: 1.800.820.1109.