In nearly 40 years in the McDonald’s restaurant business, spending more hours on his feet than he could ever count, Dwight Barnes never realized all the running around he did behind the counter would one day prepare him for the walk of his life.
The 65-year-old Deerfield man and former owner-operator of the McDonald’s restaurants in Epping and Raymond will soon set out on a 1,000-mile walk around New England to raise money for Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Barnes, who sold his restaurants and retired a few years ago, plans to visit those staying at each Ronald McDonald House in New England and will also stop by 65 McDonald’s restaurants to thank their workers.
The “Join the Journey Home” walk is expected to take 56 days.
Barnes will average just over 18 miles a day but plans to cover about 22 miles a day for 46 days. He’ll take a total of seven days off to rest his feet during the walk that he began training for last December.
His initial goal was to raise $100,000 along his walk for the nonprofit organization, but he has now bumped it up to $250,000 after Ronald McDonald House Charities was forced to cancel its largest fundraisers this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The nonprofit aims to develop, support and offer programs that improve the health and well-being of critically ill children and their families.
Barnes said he’s always had a soft spot in his heart for its mission.
“Whenever you talk about critically ill children and what that does to a family and what they need to do to get their children healthy, RMHC has been there for those families for a long time,” he said. “They provide a way to keep the families close together. They provide a place for families to be where they can share their experiences with other families that may be going through the same sorts of things.
“It’s just this really special charity and I’m just so fortunate to be able to go on this journey,” he said.
The walk will begin on the morning of Aug. 17 when Barnes departs from the Ronald McDonald House in Boston. He’ll walk to New Hampshire and arrive in Epping on Aug. 19, where he’ll stop at the McDonald’s he owned for many years before retiring.
Barnes will continue walking to the McDonald’s in Lee on Aug. 20 and then to Portsmouth. From there, he’ll make his way into Maine and to the Ronald McDonald House in Portland. He will continue on to the next house in Bangor and then head west through northern New Hampshire to Burlington, Vt. After visiting the Ronald McDonald House there, he plans to begin walking south to another house in Springfield, Mass. His journey then brings him to houses in New Haven, Conn., and Providence, R.I., before he returns to Boston to wrap up his eight-week walk.
“During my training I’ve walked in some pretty good heat and I’ve walked in rain, so I’m ready for whatever happens because I do want to stay on schedule,” said Barnes, who plans to spend his nights in hotels and motels along the way — many of which have offered complimentary stays — and will bring a GoPro camera to document the journey, which will be shared on social media.
Supporters can follow Barnes’s journey at #JoinTheJourneyHomeRMHCNE on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
His initial idea was to use his journey to kick off a capital campaign for the Ronald McDonald House in Boston, which Barnes said has 12 rooms for families but could use another 120. The project would cost millions, and while the campaign is needed, things changed when the pandemic hit.
Barnes said the purpose of his walk now is to raise money to help with the nonprofit’s operational costs. Any additional funds collected along the way will be put toward the capital campaign.
“Understandably, times are different and there was a concern about the ability to raise funds in the middle of this virus, but we decided to press on and, as it turns out, people are more than generous,” he said. “Kids don’t stop getting sick in the middle of something like this. Things continue to happen and the families need support.”
Barnes said about one third of the operating budget comes from the Ronald McDonald House Charities’ canister collections in McDonald’s drive-thrus and at the front counters, and through a program in which customers round up the price of their order to support the cause. Other fundraising efforts held by McDonald’s restaurants also help.
“We cannot thank Dwight and his supporters enough for their generosity and encouragement. Join the Journey Home is our only fundraising event that has not been canceled or significantly altered due to COVID-19,” said Nicole Anderson, chief advancement officer for Ronald McDonald House Charities of New England.
“We are facing significant projected revenue loss and are immensely grateful for the donations we are receiving through this initiative. Funds raised will provide pediatric patients and their families services that will lessen the financial and emotional burden families endure during a medical crisis,” Anderson said.
Many in the Deerfield community have been generous with donations, as have McDonald’s owners/operators.
Michael Gambino, who now owns the Epping restaurant and 13 others, has committed to donating $1,000 from each store.
“That leads the way right now as far as a single donation goes. We’re very fortunate that he’s so generous,” Barnes said.
For information on the walk or to donate, go to rmhcne.org/rmhc-ne-events/join-the-journey-home-rmhcne/