Chris “Monte” Belmonte was stirring up a scene on the sidewalks of Amherst yesterday morning.
Dressed in a blue jumpsuit with a sequined fur trapper hat, it was hard to miss the radio host as he walked down North Pleasant Street at 10 a.m. with a crowd of approximately 30 people following him.
Cars slowed down as they drove by, some honking, others pulling over, while a trail of photographers and videographers followed the walkers.
But it wasn’t the outfit or the crowd following him that was attracting all the attention, it was the shopping cart.
A tricked-out version of an average grocery store cart, the shopping cart Belmonte was pushing down the sidewalk featured rugged wheels and a blue flame decal. On the front, a white sign labeled the spectacle, “Monte’s March.”
For the past three years, Belmonte has walked from Northampton to Greenfield — a 26 mile trip — to raise money for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. People are invited to raise money to join him for a portion of the walk.
While he walks, Belmonte — a talk show host on Northampton’s 93.9 The River — constantly checks in with the radio station to solicit people to phone in donations or contribute online.
“Hunger doesn’t have a face in the Valley,” he reminded people on air.
This year, Belmonte raised $31,000 for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts , surpassing his goal to raise $30,000, according to a 7 p.m. broadcast on The River.
Last year, Belmonte had set a goal of raising $20,000 and ended up raising about $30,000 — a number that set the goal for this year.
“You can’t not raise more than you raised the year before,” he said.
Belmonte came up with the idea for the march three years ago, when brainstorming a “ridiculous publicity stunt” with officials at the food bank. During the brainstorming session, one of the food bank employees suggested Belmonte take a shopping cart to every organization in Northampton asking for donations.
Belmonte countered by suggesting that he push a shopping cart from Northampton to Greenfield.
“It was a eureka moment,” he said.
The idea stuck, and Belmonte has done it every year since.
He doesn’t train for the march, besides taking a couple of “long” walks in the weeks leading up to it. Instead, he relies on adrenaline, stating that it is “surprising” how far you can walk when you have a goal.
Different organizations, like the University of Massachusetts Marching Band, joined Monte throughout the march. As he walked through Amherst, HEC Academy and The Hartsbrook School joined him in addition to the UMass Marching Band.
“It’s awesome,” said Ani Coron, a 16-year-old student at Hec Academy, who was wearing a Monte’s March t-shirt he had made.
The Academy raised $1,234.56 by holding a penny drive.
About half an hour ahead of his anticipated schedule, Monte walked through downtown Amherst at about 9:30 a.m on his way to Sunderland.
Belmonte was joined by Andrew Morehouse, the executive director of Food Bank of Western Massachusetts , for the first time this year.
“Monte’s got a good pace,” quipped Morehouse.
Morehouse decided to participate in the walk because it was “the right thing to do.” Working for the food bank, the organization that distributes food to places such as the Amherst Survival Center, Morehouse sees the effects of hunger first hand.
According to Morehouse, about 135,000 people in Western Massachusetts rely on emergency food.
“It’s a sobering stat,” he said. “These are real people.”
For every $1 raised by the march, the food bank will be able to serve three meals, a fact that makes the walk worthwhile to Morehouse.
“Even if my feet hurt, it wouldn’t matter,” said Morehouse about 11 miles into the walk. “It’s nothing compared to what families have to go through.”
When the march reached the Amherst Survival Center at 10 a.m., the workers were outside to express their gratitude and offer encouragement to Monte.
“It’s really exciting,” said Shelly Beck, the pantry coordinator. “It’s great to see the community support hunger.”
Katie Landeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.