Cesareo Contreras | MetroWest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM — Back in February, as Mark Roberts read headline after headline about the pandemic's effect on the economy, he couldn't help but think of the families who were impacted.
"I saw articles about the 15 million people who had lost their jobs in the pandemic and hadn't found them again, and I wondered how they were going to feed their families," he said.
Roberts, who lives in Stow, got to thinking how he could help.
What if he got in his electric wheelchair, pledged to travel hundreds of miles and raised funds to help support the cause of ending world hunger, he thought. Faithfully walking alongside him would be his 6-year-old labradoodle, Mocha.
In 2017, Roberts was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder called rhombo myeloneuropathy. He has spent much of the past few years dealing with it, but this year he felt he had enough strength to accomplish this goal.
'A crazy old guy in a wheelchair with a super-cute dog'
"I thought a crazy old guy in a wheelchair with a super-cute dog would be able to be the catalyst to do exactly what we are doing today — talking about hunger," Roberts said Monday morning while visiting the United Way of Tri-County's Framingham office.
Roberts was invited to speak at the United Way's Pearl Street Cupboard & Cafe to share his story and to help spread the word about the issue of food insecurity. And of course, Mocha was with him.
Since Sept. 18, the pair have raised more than $50,000 by walking across Massachusetts. They started in West Stockbridge, on the New York line, and plan to end at the tip of the Cape in Provincetown early next month. Once they finish, they will have walked more than 300 miles.
Roberts' nonprofit, 4Paws 4Wheels 4Hunger, plans to donate collected funds to the Save the Children Foundation and the Western Mass Food Bank, the Worcester County Food Bank, the Merrimack Valley Food Bank and the Greater Boston Food Bank.
What are elected officials doing to fight hunger?
U.S. Reps. Jim McGovern and Katherine Clark attended Monday's event, using the opportunity to discuss work being done at the federal level.
"I believe that food ought to be viewed as a fundamental human right," said McGovern, a Worcester resident who represents the 2nd Congressional District. "Yet in this country, we seem to be managing hunger and not ending it."
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McGovern serves as chair of the House Rules Committee, which he said over the past few months has been operating as a committee on hunger and needs.
"I believe that food ought to be viewed as a fundamental human right."
US REP. Jim McGovern
"We have been doing hearings around the country and in Washington," he said. "We've been doing roundtables to figure out how do we actually solve this problem so that Mark and Mocha don't have to do this all the time."
McGovern said members of Congress are asking President Joe Biden to host a White House Conference on food, nutrition, hunger and health to "look at this issue holistically." He said the last such conference was held more than 50 years ago.
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Roberts said he has been "having the time of his life" completing the walk. Meeting with people from all walks of life has been a great experience, he said, and has helped keep him committed to his goal.
"The amount of people who have told me their personal story of being hungry as kids is amazing," he said. "When I say one in five children don't have enough to eat, a person at Whole Foods yesterday — dressed really nicely — said, 'I was one of those five."'
Cesareo Contreras can be reached at 508-626-3957 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.