Radio personality Monte Belmonte’s fight against hunger took a giant step forward Tuesday when his two-day, 43-mile march from Springfield to Greenfield raised a record $183,299 and counting.
“I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me for the last two weeks when I heard about the election,” Belmonte said Tuesday night while broadcasting at WRSI — 93.9 The River, where he is a radio host. “But I feel like I got my wind back, with all you folks marching with me.”
Money from the seventh annual Monte’s March will go to the Food Bank of Western Mass, which will help feed 200,000 in the four western Massachusetts counties, Belmonte said.
The radio DJ led the shopping cart convoy 43 miles from Springfield to Greenfield — broadcasting live from his shopping cart along the way — ending the two-day trek a little after 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The running donation total, as of 6 p.m.: $183,299, crushing last year’s $150,000 haul. Listeners can still make donations online, Belmonte said, which could boost the tally.
“I’m a little tired,” Belmonte said over the phone after the 43-mile walk. “But I’m in celebration mode right now so I hope that can carry me forward until closing time (at Seymour’s).”
Belmonte marched while dressed as the Statue of Liberty as a reminder that America was built off the backs of immigrants, he said.
Shopping carts that marchers pushed were painted and geared up in a Hunger Games theme by the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School.
“Everyone has the right to healthy food in western Massachusetts and across this country,” Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank, said on air after 6 p.m.
Nancy Shea, 63, of Hatfield, has been listening to Belmonte for years, but Tuesday was her first time marching for the food bank.
“I think it’s great to help your neighbors,” she said.
Local and state officials who marched with Belmonte this year include U.S. Reps Joe Kennedy, Jim McGovern and Richard Neal, and state Rep. Aaron Vega and state Rep.-elect Solomon Goldstein-Rose.
“I think we all feel very hopeful after this march,” McGovern said Tuesday night.
Over the past six years, the drive has raised a total of $393,000, providing more than one million meals to individuals facing food insecurity.
Belmonte said the original goal seven years ago of the drive was to help put a face on hunger.
“It seemed like a bigger issue than the commensurate response,” he said. “People weren’t giving in a way i feel they could’ve.”Elementary students
On Tuesday, about 20 first-graders from Erving Elementary School in Sunderland stood outside waiting for the parade of carts and marchers to roll by.
They held baggies full of coins, eager to add the change to the total.
“Monte’s going to come around and we’re going to put money in his cart,” said student Cadance Fisher said. “It’s really important.”
First-grade teacher Ben Rubin said the donations allow the students to get “involved with local activism. It allows them to feel for others.”
Fellow teacher Stephanie Barry said every dollar raised translates into three meals that can be purchased through the food bank.
“They have literally brought handfuls of change,” she said. “It led beautifully into a math lesson.”
After the march ended at Seymour the Pub in Greenfield, McGovern, a Democrat, spoke on the record-setting effort and offered encouragement for those still grappling with the results of the November election.
“We’re gonna get through all this,” he said. “We’re gonna get through it together. So don’t ever give up.”
Belmonte said his “publicity stunt” – pushing carts all across western Massachusetts – has engaged the community. And this year, with Trump winning the presidency and many listeners feeling deflated, the drive had added importance.
“It felt really good to put one foot in front of the other after couple weeks of feeling down,” he said.
The Recorder contributed to this report.
Jack Suntrup can be reached at email@example.com.