Pushing a jogging stroller containing only the basic necessities, Eric Morabito of New Paltz will set out May 19 on a solitary 250-mile walk to benefit the Shriners Hospitals for Children. A member of the Shriners’ Adonai Lodge #718 in Highland and the Cyprus Shrine in Glenmont, NY, Morabito walks to bring awareness to the good work and services provided by the Shriners and to raise some money for their children’s hospitals in Springfield and Boston, Massachusetts.
This will be the third year in a row that Morabito will undertake the trip he calls “Walking for Children — Springfield or Bust.” He begins the trek at the Adonai Lodge, walking 68 miles over the course of two days to his first destination, the Cyprus Shrine in Glenmont. From there, he keeps walking, reaching the Shriners Hospital for Children in Springfield five days later. This year, Morabito will add an additional “Bound for Boston” leg to the trip, continuing on from Springfield to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Boston. Walking 12 hours a day nonstop, he expects to complete the entire trip in nine days.
The first time he made this odyssey, in 2014, he traveled 184 miles in seven days, had 52 sponsors and raised a little more than $2,300. Last year, he altered the route a bit, did 198 miles in seven days, had 107 sponsors and raised more than $4,300. His goal for this year is to have 200 sponsors and raise $8,000. “I don’t think I’ll make that, but if not, that’s fine,” says Morabito. “My larger goal is just to get the word out to as many people as possible that you don’t have to do something as elaborate or extensive as I’m doing, a 250-mile walk, but if we all did just a little for others, think how much better everything would be.”
What drives a man to walk
It all started years ago with hundreds of pounds of aluminum can tabs and 43 gallons of pennies.
Collecting the tabs to turn in for the cash value of the aluminum and conducting a penny drive that amounted to more than $2,200 raised made the point to Morabito’s Cub and Boy Scout troops that when it comes to helping others, little things can add up to quite a lot. “That’s what I tried to get across to my scouts for years,” he says. “I would challenge them: do a good turn, even a small thing, for others every day and then tell us what group you helped. Every group out there could use some help.”
The pennies and the can tabs were collected with the Shriners transportation fund in mind. Back then, Morabito was not yet a Shriner himself. But when the longtime Cub and Boy Scout leader in New Paltz learned about the Shriners’ efforts on behalf of children, he mobilized the troops. The Shriners Hospitals specialize in pediatric orthopedics and severe burn care and treat children with cleft lip and palate malformations and spinal cord injuries. Medical care is provided regardless of a family’s ability to pay, but to get that care, the families have to be able to get their child to the hospitals. Morabito learned that the Cyprus Shrine in Glenmont, NY — a centralized location for a number of local Shriners Lodges — operates a free-of-charge transportation service to the children’s hospitals using vehicles driven by volunteers. But that service, of course, has costs involved. “When I first heard about it, it cost $20,000 a year to run these three vans,” says Morabito. “And that’s where the can tabs came in.”
Like other fraternal organizations, the Shriners don’t ask other groups to raise money for them. For the Scouts to collect can tabs and pennies to raise money to donate to the Shriners transportation fund, however, “was a no-brainer,” Morabito says. “When this started, I was working as a field inspector in Dutchess County inspecting gas stations and scrap yards. I was the guy out there regulating the sale of the gasoline and the scales used to buy scrap metal. I was already part of that, and when I heard about how collecting can tabs could help the children, I said, ‘We gotta do this.'”
The can tabs added up, inspiring the penny drive. And while the Scouts didn’t make their goal of filling the world’s largest jar of pennies, their efforts spread beyond their New Paltz troop. Other Scouting units joined in the collection drive, and more than $2,200 in pennies was accumulated for the transportation fund. After his two sons “aged out” of the Scouting organization at age 18, Morabito became a Shriner himself in 2010. Having found his 16 years as a Scout leader to be a rewarding experience, he was drawn to participate in something again to which he could apply his philanthropic energies.
Leading up to his 50th birthday, Morabito had been walking for health reasons on a fairly regular basis. The year he was 49, he started walking every day and has not missed a day since March 15, 2009. He began logging the amount of walking he did each day — hitting the seven year and 18,000-mile-mark this March — casually enlisting people to sponsor him at a penny or two cents a mile. He raised $1,000 to $1,500 a year for the Cyprus Shrine center’s transportation fund over the next few years doing this, and then one day had an idea. ‘I wonder if I could actually walk to the hospital?’ he thought.
Concerned about the effect such an endeavor would have on his wife, the idea went on the back burner. “I knew it would mean I’d be away from home and from work for seven or eight days, and she wouldn’t be able to contact me, because there’s no cell service in some of the areas I’d walk through,” he says. “But after my 50th birthday had come and gone, my wife would ask, ‘Whatever happened to the walk?’ She lost a good friend who died young and passed very fast, and she said to me, ‘You know what? If you don’t try it, you’re never going to know. Even if you don’t succeed, you’re always going to wonder.'”
Morabito finished that first walk in 2014 in seven days, arriving at the hospital in Springfield on the eighth. He had called the hospital in advance, mentioning his wife would be there to pick him up and asking if they could have a tour of the hospital when he got there. “They said they’d have to contact the local Shriners organization because they’re the ones that do the tours. As it turned out, unbeknownst to me, they did contact them, and there were at least 25 people there to meet me, applauding, when I came staggering up the hill. They had a ceremony, and it was very emotional.”
Morabito walks the 12 hours straight, saying that if he stopped and started, his muscles would tighten up. He stops only to grab a coffee or sandwich on the go, then “collapses” into sleep each night for another 12 hours. He brings a sleeping bag and pillow along with food and water, clothing and extra shoes in the jogging stroller, rather than carrying it all on his back. “Some people confuse me for a homeless person, or drive by me in the middle of nowhere and wonder why I have a baby out there. I must look like a really bad parent!”
He stays on his own and doesn’t plan where to sleep each night, choosing a location based on safety, aware that he’s vulnerable being both alone and exhausted after the day’s walking.
One thing he won’t repeat this year is a detour he took last year through difficult terrain in the Catskills. “I’d made the commitment to stop at the Boy Scout Council there to ask them about participating in the walk, but getting up to Tannersville on foot was not fun.” This year’s trip subtracts those 30 miles through the mountains, but adds on an additional 50-60 by continuing on to the Boston hospital after Springfield.
The timing of this year’s walk is planned so that after his wife picks him up in Boston, they have the three-day Memorial Day weekend to relax afterward, giving Morabito a chance to recuperate a bit before going back to work in Albany, where he runs a calibration lab for the state Weights and Measures Bureau. He hasn’t really been “training” for the walk, he says, other than the seven miles a day he walks on average; four miles in New Paltz every morning and another three or so in Albany during lunch and afternoon breaks.
Donations to “Walking for Children — Springfield or Bust: Bound for Boston” may be made through a crowd-sourcing account at GoFundMe.com/bc7wyo, which allows people to use a credit card. There is also a website to donate through (walkingforchildren.wix.com/eric) and a Facebook page, “Walking for Children Springfield or Bust.” Half of the money raised will go to the Springfield and Boston Shriners hospitals, with another 40 percent going to the Cyprus Shriners Transportation Fund. The remaining ten percent will benefit New Paltz Boy Scout Troop 172.
In the end, Morabito says, “It doesn’t matter how much money I raise, because no matter how much it is, it could always be more. But the other side of that is, whatever I do raise is money that would not have been available to help otherwise, so any amount is helping.”
And he hopes his walk helps inspire others to do their own good turn. “I would love it, of course, if everybody did something for my cause, but it’s more important that people find their own cause, and just devote a few minutes each day to it. For me, I found something that I enjoy doing that I benefit from, and I’m able to turn it to benefit for others, so that’s a ‘win win’ in my mind.”
More information is available by visiting gofundme.com/bc7wyo. Contact Eric Morabito at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit walkingforchildren.wix.com/eric or the Facebook page, “Walking for Children Springfield or Bust.”