HATFIELD — For the 13th consecutive year, Monte Belmonte, radio personality at WRSI 93.9 the River, led a 43-mile, two-day march on Nov. 21-22 to benefit the mission of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts to feed neighbors in need. This year’s event has raised $494,742 so far and will help provide nearly 2 million meals to neighbors in need across Western Mass.
Belmonte pushed an empty shopping cart, as a metaphor for hunger, from Springfield to Greenfield while broadcasting live on WRSI to raise awareness about food insecurity, while inviting listeners to donate funds to provide emergency food assistance across Western Mass. The march kicked-off at Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services in Springfield, a member of the region’s emergency food network, providing healthy groceries through its food pantry and hosting a biweekly mobile food bank site. Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, presented Patricia Bernard, MLK’s vice president of Finance and Operations, with a plaque honoring the late Ronn Johnson for his passion and work to end food insecurity in Springfield.
“Folks are really struggling, so the role of the Food Bank is to provide healthy food to 164 food pantries and meal sites across all four counties,” Morehouse said.
U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern added that “this is the richest country in the world. There are nearly 40 million Americans that don’t know where their next meal is going to come. We all can do something to end hunger. And Monte and this crew are doing something today.”
PeoplesBank presented the Food Bank with a $5,000 contribution. U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and state Sen. Jo Comerford offered their encouragement to the marchers as they began their 17-mile trek to Northampton for day one of the event. Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia welcomed the marchers at Gateway City Arts, and Chicopee Mayor John Vieau welcomed the marchers to Chicopee, where the Food Bank will build its future food distribution center and headquarters.
Along the way, the group, including state Rep. Pat Duffy, also stopped at Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen in Chicopee and Kate’s Kitchen in Holyoke, both partners with the Food Bank. Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle spoke with Belmonte as the march entered her city.
Day two of Monte’s March began in front of McGovern’s Northampton district office. Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra joined the march in Northampton, and state Reps. Lindsay Sabadosa and Paul Mark joined dozens of marchers for 26 miles through Hampshire and Franklin counties. Stops included the Amherst Survival Center and, later, Berkshire Brewing Co., which has been a generous supporter of the Food Bank for decades. Belmonte thanked Atlas Farm, the largest donor of fresh produce to the Food Bank, before concluding in Greenfield. Hawks & Reed hosted the marchers for a pay-what-you-can finish-line feast for the community.
Gateway City Arts hosted and provided lunch on Monday, and Berkshire Brewing Co. hosted Tuesday’s lunch, provided by Holyoke Hummus, for almost 200 marchers.
Key sponsors, including Alekman DiTusa LLC, Boston Mutual Life Insurance Co., CoBank, Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee, Fallon Health, Greenfield Savings Bank, Instacart, PeoplesBank, and Talcott Resolution Life Insurance help make it possible for Monte’s March to reach its fundraising goals.
“People rose to the challenge to make nearly 2 million meals happen by raising over $492,000 for the Food Bank of Western Mass.,” Belmonte said. “I’m extremely grateful and humbled by the generosity of this community.”
There is still time for people to donate to help the Food Bank reach its $500,000 goal this year. Donations can be made online at montesmarch.com.