Lloyd Lancaster will be 89 when he participates in his 33rd CROP Hunger Walk in October

By Andrea Billups
Updated August 13, 2015 12:40 PM
Credit: Bob Boggan

Walking with a cane and a great big smile, a big-hearted North Carolina senior has steadfastly raised more than $218,000 for hunger relief one step at a time.

For the past 33 years, Lancaster has participated in the city’s CROP Hunger Walk, the largest event of its kind in the nation. And this year, on Oct. 18, he’ll be 89 when he plans on completing the annual 3.6 mile trek – a symbolic representation of how far some people living in impoverished countries walk to find clean water.

“I’m not a hero, but I’m glad to contribute. And I’m glad people realize that hunger is still a problem for many people,” Lancaster humbly tells PEOPLE. “I plan to keep doing this as long as I can.”

Lancaster, a Clemson University engineering grad and native of Port Royal, South Carolina, retired from General Electric in 1990 after 33 years. But he never slowed down, continuing to volunteer his time for those in need.

While he’s in cardiac rehab weekly, he’s active enough to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity – he builds inside a warehouse now to avoid the summer heat – and delivers “friendships tray” meals with his wife, Peggy, to those who are shut-in and need food. He’s also an avid golfer.

“I’ve never experienced hunger, thank goodness” Lancaster said, explaining that his own father worked for the railroad during the Great Depression and managed to escape being laid off from a badly needed job. “We were lucky. Very lucky.”

Now, the father of four counts his blessings as he hits the pavement alongside his oldest son, Harry, who will join him on the walk along with a friend from St. Stephen United Methodist Church, where Lancaster and others are putting their faith into action.

“You see all of these pictures of people who are hungry – local people as well as worldwide – and you just feel so much for them that you want to do something.”

Not much for emailing, Lancaster has a list of 261 donors and he calls nearly all of them personally to ask them to pledge for him each year.

“The walk,” he says, “is the easy part. The hard part is getting them to donate money.”

His take this year should be more than $14,000 – a figure GE will match, and one that his local CROP organization depends on, he says.

“Lloyd will do anything for this cause,” Charlotte CROP Hunger Walk’s Executive Director Shay Merritt tells PEOPLE, calling the super senior “unassuming” and also “amazing.”

“I think the most important thing he does for us all is what he plants in our hearts. He’s out there rain or shine, 3.6 miles, so how can we not be inspired to be a better person. His heart is his inspiration to us. It’s huge.”

More than 50,000 children live at or below the poverty line in Mecklenburg County alone, she said of the problem locally.

“We all to some degree depend on the kindness of strangers and certainly people living in poverty do,” says Merritt. “Lloyd does this because it’s the right thing to do.”