Ag and Markets member walks from N.Y. to Mass. to raise funds for Shriners children’s hospitals
By KATE MOSTACCIO
It began in 2008, when PEF Member Eric Morabito was 44 years old and showing several signs of impending heart attack.
To improve his health, Morabito changed his diet and began to walk a little each week. It quickly grew to an obsession, albeit a healthy one.
“I haven’t missed a day,” said Morabito, a metrologist for New York State Agriculture and Markets’ Weights and Measures Department. “On March 15, 2009, I started walking with a goal of at least four miles a day, every day, and I’ve been doing that every day since.”
It was in 2012 that Morabito turned walking for health into walking for a cause. He collected contributions for the miles he logged, bringing in $1,300 that first year for Shriners Hospitals for Children. Two years later, he had another idea — walk from his home Lodge in Highland, Ulster County, to Shriners in Springfield, Mass.
“I printed out some Google directions, bought a jogging stroller and a tent,” Morabito said. “I had no idea how far I could walk, what I was going to do about food, where I was going to stay.”
He attempted the first trip to Springfield in 2014, quickly realizing the difficulties of his venture. He traveled north along State Route 9W to Albany, camping out along the way. Then he continued east along State Route 20 into Massachusetts. After eight days, he made it to Springfield, greeted by dozens of Shriners who caught wind of his trip. He raised $2,600.
The walk was supposed to be a “one and done” deal, Morabito said, but one of his Lodge Brothers said they would “do better next year.” This inspired Morabito to try again the following year.
“I did the walk again the following May and raised $5,200,” Morabito said. “I then had the idea that I could alter my route a little in New York and save a day and then add three days by continuing on to the Boston Hospital after reaching Springfield.”
From 2016 to 2019, Morabito embarked on his walks each spring, traveling 250 miles and raising $8,300 in 2016, $7,600 in 2017, $11,200 in 2018, and $10,900 in 2019.
Crunching the numbers puts just how much Morabito walks daily and on his trips into perspective.
He’s walked 4,260-plus consecutive days, the equivalent of 11 ¾ years; 32,500-plus miles, the equivalent of 1.3 times around the globe at the equator; burned 4,550,000 calories or 1,300 pounds, calculated at 140 calories per mile; and walked through about 38 pairs of shoes. He has also found $6,300 on the ground during his daily walks and his walks for charity, which he donates to Shriners, and found and returned more than 50 wallets. Morabito has walked during four hurricanes, tropical storms and tons of snow.
His walks are so inspiring his story made it into People Magazine’s 25 Reasons for Hope feature, a “celebration of creative people, inspiring acts, natural beauty and much-needed good news” in these uncertain times.
“I was totally taken aback by that,” Morabito said. “My wife started working on it a year ago. We didn’t think it was going to make it in. It’s just unbelievable. They had some very well-known people featured and very few were ordinary citizens like myself.”
The People feature included Morabito among the likes of Dolly Parton, who came out with her Christmas on the Square holiday movie to raise spirits, and Rick Moranis, who returns to the screen after a two-decade hiatus in a Mint Mobile commercial and who signed on for a reboot of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
Morabito, known as the “Walking Man” throughout Shriners communities coast to coast, received a national award from the Shriners and was honored by the Shriners Imperial Potentate in a Facebook video.
This year’s walk had unique challenges, taking place in September instead of the spring, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With all that has been going on this year, I didn’t think we’d make it over $8,000,” Morabito said on his Facebook page. “A total of $10,130 was raised, which is incredible.”
Morabito uses Facebook, word of mouth, and GoFundMe to gather contributions. The money is divided and donated to Shriners hospitals in Springfield and Boston, Mass., Philadelphia and Erie, Penn., The Ronald McDonald House in Albany and the Cyprus Shriners Transportation Fund.
While Morabito’s “Walking for Children — Springfield or Bust” has raised an impressive $55,630 over the last seven years and traversed 1,285 miles, he doesn’t do it just to raise money.
“It’s also about getting the word out about these hospitals,” Morabito said. “I have been in contact with four families who have gotten care for their kids after hearing about the hospitals. That’s really what it’s about. I want to give the kids a chance for a normal life.”
The reception he receives at the hospitals when he arrives is always welcoming.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “When I get there, there are generally 20 to 30 people to meet me. Hospital staff, fellow Shriners. This year, they met me outside due to COVID. In Boston, it’s not as big a reception because they don’t get the Shriners members but they bring out some patients. It’s a wonderful reception.”
The walks are rewarding for Morabito.
“It’s about getting the care for the kids,” he said. “It’s a feeling of accomplishment for me. I’m doing something that’s helping someone else.”