Former Restaurant Owner Stages Only Fundraiser for Ronald McDonald House this Year – on Foot

When COVID-19 hit, most traditional fundraisers were put on hold, then soon enough altogether cancelled.

For the Ronald McDonald House in Charlestown – which helps to house families with critically-ill children coming to Boston for health care – and all over New England, losing the two major fundraising events for their operations was a huge hit to budgets meant to help the most vulnerable.

Enter Dwight Barnes and his feet.

After walking 1,000 miles across New England, Dwight Barnes greets Rachel Anderson, family coordinator for the Charlestown Ronald McDonald House. Barnes set off from Spaulding Rehab in August, and returned on Tuesday, Oct. 13, after visiting every RMH in New England on foot and raising more than $100,000.

On Aug. 17, Barnes stood in front of Spaulding Rehab Hospital in the Navy Yard, just a short distance from the Charlestown Ronald McDonald House (RMH) and set off on foot to stage a three-month, 1,000-mile-plus fundraiser for the RMH. He headed up to New Hampshire and Maine, circled over to Vermont, then back down to Springfield, MA. From there he hit New Haven, and went up to Providence, then on Tuesday, Oct. 13, returned to Charlestown where family, friends and Ronald McDonald House staff were waiting for him.

They also brought him the news that his fundraising goal of $100,000 had been surpassed.

“It’s tremendous to finish,” he said. “My team and family and friends that walked with me met me at the McDonald’s on Tremont Street and the rest met me here…My feet feel pretty good. I wasn’t able to say that the whole way around for sure. It was mostly just blisters. That cleared up in Springfield and I’ve been feeling good since then. It feels great to surpass the fund-raising goal of $100,000. The important thing here was that we lost our two major fund-raisers this year, including the golf tournament. So, the funds raised through this project will help fill that void in the budget this year. We’re very happy about that. During COVID, we just lose a lot of things. To be able to fill that in in some way is a real good feeling.”

Ellen Simmons, director of development for RMH, said Barnes had approached them 18 months ago about doing a long-distance walk. She said they were excited about it, but at the time we had no idea how important it would become to their 2020 fundraising efforts.

“We had no idea the walk would lost 58 days, 1,000 miles and that he would be able to visit every single Ronald McDonald House in New England,” she said. “His walk raised more than $100,000. We scheduled the walk a year ago not knowing all the rest of our fundraisers would be cancelled. He has been so critical to our mission so we can maintain the services we provide to families coming here to seek medical treatment, and to take care of their needs.”

In Charlestown, the Ronald McDonald House encompasses 11 apartments and has an association with the Charlestown YMCA too. Most of those coming to the RMH here are families seeking care at MGH for their children, especially proton treatment there. Other families are being treated at Boston Children’s Hospital or Spaulding Rehab.

“One thing we are certain of is even though the world seemed to have stopped, unfortunately childhood illness did not,” said Simmons. “The need for our programs is greater now more than ever and we thank you for continued support.”

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