Different name, same mission: Belmonte back with annual march against hunger

Radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte accepts a donation from a young boy as he does a radio broadcast from the parking lot of Richardson’s Candy Kitchen as part of the 2019 Monte’s March.

Radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte accepts a donation from a young boy as he does a radio broadcast from the parking lot of Richardson’s Candy Kitchen as part of the 2019 Monte’s March. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte talks with Congressman Jim McGovern during the 2018 Monte’s March.

Radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte talks with Congressman Jim McGovern during the 2018 Monte’s March. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte, center, walks down Route 116 in Sunderland with fellow participants of the 2018 Monte’s March.

Radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte, center, walks down Route 116 in Sunderland with fellow participants of the 2018 Monte’s March. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte, in white, pushes an empty shopping cart down Sugarloaf Street in South Deerfield during the 2020 Monte’s March.

Radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte, in white, pushes an empty shopping cart down Sugarloaf Street in South Deerfield during the 2020 Monte’s March. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte, with his microphone in hand, pushes an empty shopping cart down Sugarloaf Street in South Deerfield  during the 2020 Monte’s March.

Radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte, with his microphone in hand, pushes an empty shopping cart down Sugarloaf Street in South Deerfield during the 2020 Monte’s March. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Christopher “Monte” Belmonte interviews Ashley Randle, now commissioner of the state Department of Agricultural Resources, live on the radio during the 2019 Monte’s March in South Deerfield.

Christopher “Monte” Belmonte interviews Ashley Randle, now commissioner of the state Department of Agricultural Resources, live on the radio during the 2019 Monte’s March in South Deerfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 11-17-2023 4:17 PM

Don’t worry, radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte will still push a shopping cart 43 miles from Springfield to Greenfield to raise money to combat food insecurity. The journey will simply have a different name.

This year marks the first March for the Food Bank with Monte Belmonte, 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.

“The march will continue!” Belmonte, 45, said in a question-and-answer interview with NEPM when he started there. “Working together as a community and a nation to end hunger is something I very much believe in. Food insecurity continues to be an issue in our community and radio gives me a platform to draw attention to the problem.”

The Turners Falls resident has kept that promise. This year’s two-day, 43-mile trek is scheduled to start at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Springfield at 7 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 20. He will push his famous shopping cart through Springfield, Chicopee, Holyoke and a sliver of Easthampton before getting to Northampton at around 3:30 or 4 p.m.

The next day, Belmonte and some supporters will leave from U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern’s office at about 6 a.m. and head toward Hadley, hoping to catch the sunrise atop the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Bridge in Northampton, before moseying through the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus and eventually stopping for lunch at Berkshire Brewing Co. in South Deerfield. Belmonte plans to then get to the Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield by 6 p.m.

The annual march raises money and awareness for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield. The fundraising goal is $500,000 this year, the same as the 2022 goal, which Belmonte referred to as “the sweet spot.”

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The idea came to Belmonte 14 years ago while working at WRSI. The radio station set up a shopping cart outside Whole Foods in Hadley to solicit food donations from customers leaving the store.

“That was great. A traditional food drive is great. They’re good and important,” he said. “But … I was convinced that doing a fund drive would have a bigger effect than doing a food drive.”

Cash donations enable food banks to work directly with farmers and retailers to get healthier food at lower prices. The money can also cover the cost of picking up food from donors and bringing it wherever it needs to go.

McGovern, a Democrat representing the 2nd Congressional District of Massachusetts, again plans to march with Belmonte for as much of the trip as possible.

“This march is important because it raises awareness of hunger in our community. It also raises money to combat hunger. I think it represents the goodness of our community. This is not only a 43-mile walk, but it’s an opportunity to meet with different people along the way,” McGovern said. “We have school groups that meet up with us, we have senior citizens that walk with us, business leaders, politicians, you name it.”

McGovern has focused much of his legislative career on fighting hunger, which he said is “a political condition.” He said that even a few dollars can contribute to the eradication of hunger in western Massachusetts.

“What we lack, sadly, is the political will,” he said. “To me, food is a fundamental human right. Everybody should have access to good, nutritious food, period. End of story.”

Jillian Morgan, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts’ director of development, started her job in the fall of 2019, roughly six months before the pandemic caused regional hunger to spike, only for it to drop as the world reopened. She said regional food insecurity has been climbing back up as of late, due to inflation and the expiration of pandemic-era benefits and the child tax credit.

“It’s been quite a journey, in terms of seeing how food insecurity has changed,” she said.

Morgan said the food bank helps an average of 100,000 people per month in Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden and Berkshire counties.

Volunteers will staff the food bank’s phone lines (1-888-323-HOPE) during next week’s march. People can also make monetary donations at bit.ly/3QKSQ2d. Those who wish to walk as an individual or with a team can register at marchforthefoodbank.org.

Belmonte echoed McGovern’s sentiments that food justice is often hampered by societal ills. He said the Springfield neighborhood where he starts his march is made up predominantly of people of color and, despite having a higher population than the city of Northampton, has few options for buying healthy food. Meanwhile, he said, Northampton has supermarkets and a great food co-op.

Belmonte also mentioned his trusty shopping cart is getting some work done by Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School students.

“It just gets a tune-up every year,” he said.

Belmonte, known to conduct his march while wearing outrageous costumes, said this year will feature “a Barbie-themed celebration of drag.” He encourages people to attend the march dressed as their favorite incarnation of Barbie or Ken.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com.