‘Hunger is something we can solve’: Annual march raises $458K for Food Bank of Western Massachusetts

The 14th annual March for the Food Bank with Monte Belmonte, pictured second from left, makes its way up North Main Street in South Deerfield on Tuesday.

The 14th annual March for the Food Bank with Monte Belmonte, pictured second from left, makes its way up North Main Street in South Deerfield on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

The 14th annual March for the Food Bank with Monte Belmonte, pictured second from left, makes its way up North Main Street in South Deerfield on Tuesday.

The 14th annual March for the Food Bank with Monte Belmonte, pictured second from left, makes its way up North Main Street in South Deerfield on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Christopher “Monte” Belmonte makes a plea for donations during a stop at Atlas Farm in Deerfield during the 14th annual March for the Food Bank on Tuesday.

Christopher “Monte” Belmonte makes a plea for donations during a stop at Atlas Farm in Deerfield during the 14th annual March for the Food Bank on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Christopher “Monte” Belmonte and Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey talk during a stop at Deerfield Academy during the 14th annual March for the Food Bank on Tuesday.

Christopher “Monte” Belmonte and Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey talk during a stop at Deerfield Academy during the 14th annual March for the Food Bank on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Gov. Maura Healey walks with Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Mass., on Tuesday during its 14th annual march.

Gov. Maura Healey walks with Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Mass., on Tuesday during its 14th annual march. STAFF PHOTO / PAUL FRANZ

From left, Congressman Jim McGovern, Christopher “Monte” Belmonte and Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey talk during a stop at Deerfield Academy during the 14th annual March for the Food Bank on Tuesday.

From left, Congressman Jim McGovern, Christopher “Monte” Belmonte and Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey talk during a stop at Deerfield Academy during the 14th annual March for the Food Bank on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 11-21-2023 7:37 PM

GREENFIELD — Two days and 43 miles of walking later, more than $450,000 has been raised for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts — a number that translates to roughly 1.5 million meals for people in need, according to Executive Director Andrew Morehouse.

“Despite being in relatively severe pain in my legs, I feel rejuvenated by the power of community,” Morehouse said outside Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center on Tuesday evening, marking the end of the trek. “It’s the theme for tonight. … When I look back at a crowd of over 100 people who walked 26 miles today and probably another 60 [people] yesterday, it’s very humbling to know how much people care about their neighbors in need.”

As of 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, $458,000 had been raised, according to Christopher “Monte” Belmonte, the radio personality who launched the fundraiser in 2010 while working at WRSI 93.9 The River.

This year marked the first March for the Food Bank with Monte, a new moniker for the storied Monte’s March after the radio host left WRSI 93.9 The River for New England Public Media (NEPM) late last year. As it has for 14 years, the annual march raises money and awareness for the Hatfield-based Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

The two-day, 43-mile walk began at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Springfield on Monday morning. Joined by legislators and community members from across the region, Belmonte pushed his famous shopping cart through Springfield, Chicopee, Holyoke and a sliver of Easthampton before getting to Northampton that afternoon. The journey continued on Tuesday, departing from U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern’s office and heading toward Hadley, then through the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus and on to Deerfield and Greenfield.

“Usually I’m so in my headphones broadcasting for two days,” said Belmonte, who donned a Barbie costume on Tuesday. “We did it a bit differently this year and it allowed me to have more conversations with people on the march, which is something I’ve been missing in all these 14 years. It’s become clear to me it’s as important to be having these interactions and ... building community as it is to raise the money, in some ways.”

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And for the first time since 2010, a sitting governor joined the western Massachusetts community for a portion of the trek from Springfield to Greenfield — a move that didn’t go unnoticed by members of the region’s delegation.

“You have to love [Gov.] Maura Healey for being willing to show up, to listen, to put her body on a walk to end hunger ... and to plainly and passionately talk about the social determinants of health with such passion, but also such depth of knowledge and commitment to the work that has to be done,” said Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

Comerford, Belmonte and others credited Healey, in particular, for signing a $56 billion budget that included permanently offering all students free school meals.

“It’s pretty simple for me — I don’t want to see any person in this state hungry,” said Healey, who joined the march at Deerfield Academy, the last stop on the walk before its final destination at Hawks & Reed. “Hunger is something we can solve. I wanted to be here today to show my support for Congressman [Jim McGovern], for the [Food Bank of Western Massachusetts], and to show my support for all who are united in eradicating hunger in this state.”

Referring to hunger as a “multi-faceted issue,” Healey said it continues to be a priority for her to make Massachusetts a more affordable place for families. She touted the Child and Family Tax Credit, which eliminates the two-dependent cap and increases the credit from $180 per dependent child, disabled adult or senior to $310 for 2023 and to $440 on a permanent basis, starting in 2024.

“We have to appreciate the growing need,” she said. “We know people are really struggling with high costs.”

Speaking to Belmonte outside Deerfield Academy, Healey emphasized the importance of food banks as the state works to fight food insecurity.

“I’m a huge advocate for the incredible work the food bank does,” she said. “Raising awareness of hunger as an issue is really important. I don’t think enough people statewide appreciate just how severe hunger is and how it affects young people, old people and everyone in between.”

Healey said the severity of the rainstorms this summer further highlighted the importance of food banks.

“The disruptions to those food banks literally meant the disruption to needed food supply,” Healey said. “I’m grateful for and proud of the resilience shown by our farmers, shown by those who work in food banks distributing food across the state. For me, it underscored the need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to both fund and support these efforts and to raise people’s awareness about the critical infrastructure that our food banks provide. I wish for a day when we didn’t need food banks. That’s what we want.”

For every dollar raised, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts can provide three meals, according to Morehouse. People can continue to make monetary donations through the end of the month at bit.ly/3QKSQ2d.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter (X): @MaryEByrne.