For all its sacrifices, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a trigger for many to discover new dreams. For Tommy Pasquale, that’s meant a journey that seemed impossible when it first crossed his mind during the lockdown.
On Sept. 19, the native of Morris County, New Jersey joined friends and family on a Jersey Shore beach to start the adventure of a lifetime. He’s walking 3,000 miles across the continent, pushing a shopping cart spray-painted red, white and blue to raise money for homeless veterans.
“They all thought I was a little bit crazy, and I guess that is understandable,” the 24-year-old said last week from Tennessee, where he’s currently trundling along the back roads and byways of America.
Pasquale, who grew up in Randolph, N.J., and lives in Manasquan, N.J., has raised $15,000 so far, in a trip he’s documenting on various social media feeds. To date, he’s made his way 925 miles through Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. He plans to end his journey seven months from now in Venice Beach, California.
He’s motivated by “knowing the sacrifices that so many men and women have given to this country to make opportunities for me and everyone else possible,” he said via Zoom. “They’ve done their part to make this country great, so I just want to repay the favor.”
Pasquale, who studied marketing and management at Seton Hall, said his family thought he was being sarcastic when he brought up walking across the country. But he was captivated by the idea, feeling he was at a time in his life where he could take a huge risk for a good cause.
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He quit his job at a payroll and benefits software company and began preparing. Around Memorial Day, he started training with daily walks on the beach to get in shape. “I made the decision to take the chance and go for it,” Pasquale said.
For the past two months, he’s been on the road, pushing a cart modified with oversized wheels and decorated with a big sign advertising his campaign. He starts early in the morning and typically walks 20 to 25 miles a day, stopping between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
The cart carries Pasquale’s personal belongings, a camping tent and food such as canned beans, peanut butter, granola bars, jerky and nuts. “Every once in awhile, I need something more substantial, so I stop to get some fast food in places like Walmart,” he said.
His nights are completely different from what they were two months ago. Pasquale has pitched his tent at campgrounds, churches, fire departments and local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts. Friends and Good Samaritans have offered help along the way.
“There have been some kind people who let me pitch the tent in their yard,” he said. “Every once in awhile, I stay in a motel and then I have some friends who have been generous enough to let me come and crash on their couch.”
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Pasquale is on his second cart. The first one broke down on Day Six, but two friends came to the rescue: “My friends Nico and Ben acquired a Home Depot cart, modified it and brought it to me the next day,” he said.
All the miles he’s walked have garnered attention and helped raise thousands via his GoFundMe page. All donations go to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
Pasqale said he wants to create awareness of the estimated 40,000 U.S. veterans who go to sleep homeless every night. “I just think that’s kind of a shocking number and unacceptable,” he said.
“Helping veterans in any way I can has always been something that I have been passionate about,” Pasquale added. “I have some family members who are veterans and a lot of friends who are veterans or on active duty.”
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Pasquale said he’s been battling aches and pains, but overall, his body has held up well. “The mental part, it’s definitely draining,” he said.
He plans to take a southern route for the rest of the trip, heading through Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before reaching the Pacific, hopefully surrounded by friends and relatives.
It’s been a reflective time alone on the road. Pasquale said he’s been impressed the most by people’s hospitality, their willingness to help a stranger no matter where they’re from, their political affiliations or their personal beliefs.
“The most interesting thing I’ve seen so far is how different the way of life is among the various parts of this country,” he said. “But no matter where I am, people are welcoming to me.”