Churches around the state will observe Utah's Hunger Sabbath weekend on Friday, May 17, through Sunday, May 19, with a large part of the event focused on the annual CROP Walk, to be held Saturday, May 18.

Organizers say both events encourage food donations to local hunger organizations and give caring people a way to be involved on an individual or public policy basis.Now in its seventh year, the annual Hunger Sabbath is publicized widely through local churches, which are encouraging members to participate in a variety of activities - from canned food drives during regular church services to hands-on participation in distributing home-delivered meals.

This year's theme will focus on senior citizen malnutrition. More than 500,000 additional home-delivered meals and 800,000 additional senior center meals are needed to meet the need of Utah's elderly poor.

The CROP Walk, now in its fifth year in Utah, is a 10K walk to begin at 10 a.m. at Liberty Park, with participants walking through downtown Salt Lake City before returning to the park.

Organizers hope to raise $10,000, one-fourth of which will stay in the Salt Lake Valley to benefit local hunger programs, including the Crossroads Urban Center, the Indian Walk-In Center, St. Vincent de Paul Center, Utahns Against Hunger and the Homeless Shelter Children's Assistance Fund.

Most of the funds will be used by Church World Service for overseas relief and development work to aid cyclone victims in Bangladesh and refugees in Iraq, Iran and Turkey.

In addition to the CROP Walk, Hunger Sabbath organizers are encouraging Utahns to become involved in their annual "Share the Harvest" program as part of the celebration by setting aside and planting one row in their home gardens with food to be donated to local hunger relief agencies.

Other suggestions for participation include contacting the governor and state legislators to express concern about nutritional needs for the elderly and poor, and becoming an advocate for the homeless and hungry.

Officials estimate there are at least 1,905 homebound senior citizens in Utah 60 years of age or older who need and are not receiving home-delivered meals through the Meals-on-Wheels program. According to one survey, one third of all senior citizens now receiving the meals eat only that one meal each day.