Monte Belmonte, friends walk 43 miles for the hungry

The Recorder, November 21, 2017, by Andy Castillo and Aviva Luttrell

Clad in an orange space suit, radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte raised a cold cup of beer in recognition of Berkshire Brewing Company’s (BBC) decades-long commitment to helping hungry people.

For about 20 years, the local brewery has donated 10 percent of all “Shabadoo” Black and Tan beer sales to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

“We’ve been a supporter since we moved into the neighborhood, back in 1994. Unfortunately, the need keeps increasing,” said the beer company’s founder Gary Bogoff, standing with Belmonte, a Turners Falls resident, outside BBC’s South Deerfield Brewery Tuesday afternoon. Bogoff added, “We’re in it for the duration.”

Belmonte’s beer stop came halfway through “Monte’s March,” a 43-mile walk from Springfield to Greenfield, made while pushing a shopping cart and broadcasting live on WRSI’s “The River,” soliciting donations on behalf of the food bank.

Since 2010, when the event started, Monte’s March has raised nearly $600,000 for The Food Bank, providing approximately 1,800,000 meals to our neighbors in need, according to organizers. Ben Clark, the owner of Clarkdale Fruit Farms who walked Tuesday, noted the food bank “leverages funds” so every dollar provides three meals. Last year, Belmonte’s trek raised $183,400 by the time the march reached its end in Greenfield — above the $150,000 goal initially set.

“This is a solvable problem if you’re willing to put together the coalitions,” said Congressman Joe Kennedy III, who joined Belmonte in Sunderland.

“The federal government can certainly make some of their programs more robust,” Kennedy said. “At local levels (the solution) is to galvanize community support like this to make sure people know this is an issue. Even in communities that are doing as well as Massachusetts, there’s an awful lot of people who are, unfortunately, fighting off hunger. But we can do something about it. And, thankfully for everyone here, they are.”

This year, he was joined by dozens of people, including food bank Executive Director Andrew Morehouse, Chicopee Mayor Richard Kos, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, Greenfield Mayor William Martin and Massachusetts Congressmen Jim McGovern and Kennedy.

Participant Devorah Rosenberg of Greenfield, who paused while cycling across Sunderland Bridge, says she walks because she has personally experienced the food bank’s impact.

“I was on WIC when my kids were growing up. I wasn’t always food secure,” Rosenberg said. “I’ve watched the food bank grow and grow. It’s just amazing what they can do, and I’m happy to help them.”

Belmonte set out from the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Springfield at 7 a.m. Monday, stopping for a fundraising dinner at the Union Station Ballroom in Northampton that night. On Tuesday, he ended his march at Magpie Woodfired Pizzeria on Bank Row in Greenfield, having raised $236,258 for the regional food bank.

“Physically, the miles made me feel a little tight, but pretty good. The weather was better than it’s ever been, so that was great,” he said. “The energy was really high. The technology was not in our favor for trying to broadcast from a shopping cart for 43 miles, but it’s all worthwhile if we can make a difference for the Food Bank of Western Mass., and I think we really have.”

Belmonte said the money raised will provide one day of meals for the quarter-million residents of western Massachusetts who are food insecure.

“This is real. It’s about helping people. This is not a political speech, or a press conference. This is like-minded people coming together and making sure people in our community don’t go hungry,” McGovern said.