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Monte’s March pauses in Amherst to visit Lucio Perez in church sanctuary

  • WRSI radio personality Christopher "Monte Belmonte," center, assisted by Sean Barry of Four Seasons Wine and Liquor, at right, lead the pack through downtown Amherst toward the Amherst Survival Center Nov. 21, 2017, during Monte’s March, an annual event to raise money and awareness to combat hunger. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • WRSI radio personality Christopher "Monte Belmonte," right, greets Lucio Perez of Springfield, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant currently taking sanctuary at the First Congregational Church of Amherst, Nov. 21, 2017, during Monte’s March, which is raising money and awareness to combat hunger. Margaret Sawyer, an organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, translates to Spanish for Perez, at center, while U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern looks on, at back. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • WRSI radio personality Christopher "Monte" Belmonte, left, interviews Andrew Morehouse, executive director of The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, during a brief stop at the First Congregational Church of Amherst to visit Lucio Perez of Springfield, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant currently taking sanctuary at the church, Nov. 21, 2017, during Monte’s March. The march is raising money and awareness to combat hunger. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • WRSI radio personality Christopher “Monte” Belmonte leads the pack through downtown Amherst toward the Amherst Survival Center Tuesday during Monte’s March, which is raising money and awareness to combat hunger. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • WRSI radio personality Christopher "Monte" Belmonte, center, assisted by Sean Barry of Four Seasons Wine and Liquor, at right, greets onlookers while moving through downtown Amherst toward the Amherst Survival Center Nov. 21, 2017, during Monte’s March, which is raising money and awareness to combat hunger. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • WRSI radio personality Christopher "Monte" Belmonte, right, is honored with a scarf from the local Tibetan community Nov. 21, 2017, during Monte’s March, which is raising money and awareness to combat hunger. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern, center, greets members of the local Tibetan community after they gifted him with a scarf Nov. 21, 2017, during Monte’s March, which is raising money and awareness to combat hunger. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • WRSI radio personality Christopher "Monte" Belmonte, center, assisted by Sean Barry of Four Seasons Wine and Liquor, at right, leads the pack through downtown Amherst toward the Amherst Survival Center Nov. 21, 2017, during Monte’s March, which is raising money and awareness to combat hunger. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



Staff Writer
Friday, November 24, 2017

AMHERST — A month into his refuge at the First Congregational Church in Amherst, as he seeks to appeal a deportation order that could force him to return to his native Guatemala, Lucio Perez greeted dozens of well-wishers who stopped by on the second day of Monte’s March, an annual effort to raise money and awareness to combat hunger.

“I want to thank all of you for being out there this morning,” said Perez, speaking through interpreter Margaret Sawyer, an organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center. “It’s so cold and it’s not easy.”

Perez’s comments came as WRSI radio personality Monte Belmonte, who organized the march for the eighth time, carved out time to be at the Main Street church.

He was joined by U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern, Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan and more than 50 children from area schools, including some from the Smith College Campus School in Northampton and The Common School in Amherst.

McGovern said he commends First Congregational Church for providing Perez sanctuary and pledged to work toward reforms of immigration at the federal level, calling out the Trump administration for what he called a lack of compassion.

“There are countless good men and women across the country who are facing forced deportation,” McGovern said. “I think that’s terrible.”

“There are a  lot of good people in the community who stand with you,” McGovern said.

As Perez spoke to people gathered in the playground at the Spring Street Preschool, which is housed in the church, he asked that people do well by one another and take care of their neighbors. Perez said he wishes God’s blessing on the marchers.

“I’m surprised and touched to see all of you today,” Perez said.

Belmonte, dressed in an orange astronaut uniform, talked to Perez for his radio listeners.

“Our hearts are with you,” Belmonte said. “We admire you for your bravery.”

Following his interview, Belmonte hugged Perez and posed for photos with him.

The march began its 26-mile journey to Greenfield shortly after 6 a.m. from McGovern’s district office on Pleasant Street in Northampton, before crossing the Coolidge Bridge and entering Hadley. At Hopkins Academy, the marchers were regaled by members of the school’s marching band. They continued into Amherst on Amity Street before arriving at the Main Street church, then headed north to the Amherst Survival Center and were joined by U.S. Congressman Joe Kennedy III.

Last year, the march raised more than $200,000 through donations and matching gifts. Monte's March had collected $30,000 after the first day.

Food Bank of Western Massachusetts Executive Director Andrew Morehouse said whatever money is raised will support efforts to reduce food insecurity.

 “We’re here to provide food to people who need it, that’s our position,” Morehouse said. 

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.