‘Deep sense of community’ drives Monte’s March fundraising

  • STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Monte’s March approaches the common in South Deerfield on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte dressed as Uncle Sam leads Monte’s March up Route 116 in South Deerfield on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte interviews state Department of Agricultural Resources Deputy Commissioner and Policy and Legislative Director Ashley Randle live on the radio during Monte’s March in South Deerfield on Tuesday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Congressman Jim McGovern participates in Monte’s March on Sugarloaf Street in South Deerfield on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte admires artwork done by Conway Grammar School students supporting Monte’s March in South Deerfield on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 11/23/2021 4:53:13 PM

SUNDERLAND — Joined by a crowd of state politicians and local activists, Christopher “Monte” Belmonte of WRSI 93.9 The River completed his 12th annual 43-mile trek across three counties to raise money for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

Starting Monday morning in Springfield, Belmonte and company made their way up to Greenfield for a “finish line feast” at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center Tuesday evening. Besides turning heads in an elaborate Uncle Sam costume and raising awareness as the crowd passed onlookers, Belmonte amassed a substantial amount of money in donations.

“Uncle Sam has been used as a piece of propaganda for war for so long I thought I’d use him as a piece of propaganda for peace,” Belmonte said to explain his outfit.

By the end of the night, $507,045 had been raised for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, smashing the $500,000 goal. Pushing his trademark empty shopping cart, Belmonte had also collected a group of about 100 people by the time he entered Franklin County.

“It’s humbling and amazing at the same time,” Belmonte said, expressing gratitude that the COVID-19 vaccine could enable an in-person gathering. “I’m really glad that more people were able to join because we were limited last year.”

The diversity within the cause’s support base also pleased Belmonte. He expressed gratitude that people of varying ages came out to march, highlighting the presence of a 93-year-old participant. He also lit up recalling an appearance from the “Generosity Sasquatch,” an anonymous costumed Wendell resident who donates $1,000 in cash each year.

“I see him every year, but he runs away before I can talk to him,” Belmonte said.

Some supporters elected to help from the sidelines. Carter Wall, a food bank volunteer and manager of government affairs and community relations for Monte’s March sponsor FirstLight Hydro Generating Co., operated a hot apple cider stand in Sunderland during her lunch break to help warm up marchers.

“What I love about this event is that everyone can participate,” Wall said. “It’s such a wonderful event. It really brings the community together.”

Monte’s March also featured prominent leaders on local, state and national levels, including U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, Food Bank of Western Massachusetts Executive Director Andrew Morehouse and former U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III.

“It’s amazing,” Kennedy, who has participated in the march for five or six years, said of the turnout. “I think when I came out the first time, there were around 12 of us and we raised about $50,000.”

On a policy level, Kennedy said food insecurity needs to be targeted at its roots.

“To solve it on a more structural level,” he said, “you have to address the structures that allow it to exist.”

This starts with local advocacy, he said.

“You need to build up organizations at a community level to drive that change,” Kennedy said.

He finished by saying that Franklin County is particularly commendable for how its people look out for each other, painting an optimistic picture for the future of the area’s community-level advocacy.

“Franklin (County) has a deep sense of community, a willingness to help and a desire to help,” he said.

By the time the march arrived at Hawks & Reed, Belmonte began broadcasting live for WRSI, interviewing organizations in the crowd that conducted their own fundraising. Groups reported earnings ranging from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands. Meanwhile, Morehouse collaborated via text with those tallying the figures in pursuit of a grand total.

“I don’t even know how to crunch all these numbers together,” Belmonte said. “But meanwhile, we’re getting ready to party.”

At around 6 p.m., as musicians played their instruments on the Greenfield Common and marchers danced on weary legs, Morehouse received the evening’s final update: $507,045 raised, with straggling additions anticipated to trickle in.

“I’m always literally blown away from the passion. … It just really is encouraging and reassuring that this community cares about ending food insecurity,” Morehouse said.

“This is real,” McGovern said to Belmonte. “This is over half a million dollars you’ve raised. … I’m proud to march with you.”

Belmonte hopes this desire to help continues after he takes off his walking shoes. He encourages those interested in supporting the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts to donate at pledgereg.com/montes-march-2021.

“If you’re reading this now, the march is over, but we still need your help,” Belmonte said. “We really want to exploit your generosity, especially since it’s Thanksgiving week and you’re probably already feeling warm feelings.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com. Reporter Bera Dunau contributed to this story.


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