BENNINGTON — With his red-and-white-striped stirrup socks, Dwight Barnes is pretty hard to miss as he walks along the byways of New England — and that's the point. The retired McDonald's franchise owner is on a 1,000-mile journey by foot to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House Charities, a task made more challenging by the coronavirus pandemic.
Since leaving the Ronald McDonald House in Boston on Aug. 17, Barnes has covered about 700 miles. If all goes according to plan, he'll finish his trip in Boston on Oct. 13.
Sitting in a booth at the McDonald's on Northside Drive on Friday morning, Barnes explained that the original goal of his journey was to raise $100,000 for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of New England. But when COVID-19 canceled the charities' two major fundraisers, an annual night at Fenway Park and a charity golf tournament, the goal was ratcheted up to $250,000.
So far, 40 days into his Join the Journey Home walk, he's raised about $91,000.
"We had to pivot to become something that would be used to support the operations as they were losing out on a lot of revenue. So, that's purpose number one," he said. "Number two is to shine a light on RMHC and the great work they do." There are six Ronald McDonald Houses in New England, where sick kids and their families can stay together as they access medical care, and Barnes is going to visit them all.
Barnes, who lives in Deerfield, N.H., took up walking three years ago, after retiring from a four-decade career as a McDonald's franchise owner.
"I went from 60 to zero overnight," he said. "So I went to the gym I started to walk, and I realized I could walk pretty good distances without too much trouble.
"I thought, jeez, you know, this is good for my health, but is there something else I can do with it? There's some some good I can do with it. And I put that together with the fact that I really have a soft spot for this charity. As a McDonald's operator I did fundraising for the charity for about 30 years."
Barnes said he has been deeply touched by the generosity of strangers he has met in his travels. "We've had donations anywhere from $14,000 from an individual who's a McDonald's operator in New Hampshire, all the way down to $1.38 I got the other day from a young lady in a car," he said. Just that morning, a pickup truck driver at the drive-thru handed him a $20 bill.
He expressed his gratitude, too to the managers and crews of the McDonald's restaurants he's visiting. The restaurants provide about a third of the RMHC budget, through canisters on counters, a sale price rounding-up program, and the three cents donated per Happy Meal sold. "I'm here to tell the folks that they're doing a great job and keep up the great work," he said.
Barnes has been staying in motels and hotels along the way, with arrangements made by his advance team. Many hotels have put him up at no charge; one of those was the Harwood Hill Motel in Bennington, where he spent Thursday night after walking from Manchester.
From Bennington, his path leads through Williamstown, Mass., where he will stay Friday night, and then eastward toward North Adams, where he plans to visit the McDonald's on Saturday before tackling the Mohawk Trail. From there, he'll pull on his socks and lace up his sneakers once again, and head to Shelburne Falls, Greenfield, Mass., and points south.
You can follow along with Barnes' journey at #JoinTheJourneyHomeRMHCNE on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. More information is available at https://rmhcne.org/rmhc-ne-events/join-the-journey-home-rmhcne/.