Eighty-one year-old walks miles to fight hunger

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News

Nearly every single day, Cruz Ornales can be seen walking through downtown. The only exception is when the weather doesn’t allow for decent walking conditions. “If it’s really snowy, then you see him outside helping the neighbors clean off their cars,” says wife Leora Ornales. That daily practice has kept Ornales in shape for the Fiesta Days Hunger Walk each year. The Hunger Walk is held with the help of local churches, civic organizations, and community members to raise funds through sponsoring walkers to be donated to the Food Shelf, the St. Martin Fund, the Backpack Program, and the Salvation Army. Participants and spectators are also encouraged to bring donations of food items for the local food shelf. 

This year’s walk included a ceremony recognizing Cruz for his many years of walking and raising funds to fight hunger. Since 2010, Cruz has spent time throughout each year raising funds for the event, including an annual trip to South Dakota to collect donations. “We save our money so we can make the trip out to South Dakota,” says Leora. Because of all of his efforts, Cruz has raised around $30,000 on his own since 2010. Some of those donations each year come from the Knights of Columbus, of which he is a member with both the 4th Degree Knights of Columbus out of Benson/Willmar area and the 3rd Degree Knights of Columbus in Montevideo. 

If you ask Cruz what inspires him to work hard each year to raise the funds, he’ll point to his wife and tell you to ask her, being humble about all of the work he has put into the event. Leora says his efforts can be attributed to his own struggles in life. “Food was kind of tight always and we ended up going to the food shelf a lot,” she says. “He wanted to give back.” The walk has ranged from three miles to five miles each year, dependent upon the weather forecasted. This year was a three-mile walk, and despite being 81 years of age and having had three strokes, Cruz walked for the same cause he’s been championing for. This, Cruz has decided, will be the last year he walks in the event. “He surpassed his goal for fundraising this year,” says Leora. 

Organizers of the event recognized the importance of recognizing his dedication, making a speech as the crowd gathered to begin the walk. They also awarded Cruz with a plaque commemorating his work. “It’s important work, but most of us don’t put that much work into it,” says organizer Dave Swenson.