BANGOR, Maine — Decked out in McDonald’s attire with red and white striped stockings poking out from his sneakers and a heavy-duty backpack wrapped around his shoulders, Dwight Barnes of New Hampshire trekked up the driveway off State Street to greet staff from Bangor’s Ronald McDonald House early Wednesday.
The stop is one of Barnes’ first visits throughout his more than 1,000-mile journey to raise funds to help critically ill children and their families through Ronald McDonald House Charities.
The 65-year-old former McDonald’s store operator said he found himself in a different phase of life after retiring in 2017. “My activity level dropped off dramatically,” he said. He began walking a few miles a day, hitting the gym and riding a stationary bike to stay active.
Then Barnes realized he could walk for a while without tiring too much, and he wanted to do something good with this newfound ability.
Barnes has walked 288 miles so far and raised more than $75,000 of the organization’s $250,000 goal. By the end of his eight-week journey, he’ll have walked about 1,025 miles and visited 65 various McDonald’s stores across New England.
He averages 18-25 miles every day and plans to take just seven days off to rest.
Barnes began planning his expedition more than a year ago with the organization’s blessing — in hopes of raising money to build new patient rooms in the Ronald McDonald House at Boston Harbor for families who flock to the city seeking medical care for their sick children.
The Boston Harbor location is in great need of more rooms for patients and families as the waitlist continues to grow, Barnes said. Requests to stay at the location have doubled over the last three years, he wrote in a blog post before starting his journey.
While the COVID-19 pandemic introduced new challenges for the organization, it didn’t flatten Barnes’ mission — instead, he refocused his efforts.
The Ronald McDonald House organization has faced significant revenue losses after having to cancel two of their major fundraising events, Barnes explained. So, he decided to raise funds to help cover its operating costs throughout the pandemic.
“Even though the world seemed to have stopped, unfortunately childhood illness did not. The need for the compassionate support that RMHC New England provides is greater now more than ever,” Barnes wrote in his blog.
Barnes said stopping in to visit different stores is an important part of the trip because he gets to meet owners, employees and customers and share the RMH mission.
McDonald’s stores also help raise money for its charitable organization by collecting donations — which ultimately makes up one-third of its operating costs.
“I never would’ve thought that we’d be doing this in a pandemic,” said Ellen Simmons, the director of development for RMHC who greeted Barnes in Bangor on Wednesday. “It’s been such a lifesaver event for us.”
Despite taking an extra day off recently due to rain, Barnes said he is mostly still on schedule. He will stay another night in Bangor before leaving for the next leg of his journey toward Burlington, Vermont. From there, he’ll walk on to Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Barnes takes refuge at hotels and motels after long days on foot — many of which have offered him complimentary stays after hearing about his mission.
He stopped in Portland last Tuesday after a kick-off event in Boston earlier this month. Those who want to donate to the RMH organization can do so via their website.