Despite all its sacrifices, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a trigger for many to discover new dreams. For Tommy Pasquale, that meant a journey that seemed impossible when he first popped into his head during the lockdown.
On September 19, the Morris County, New Jersey native joined friends and family on a Jersey Shore beach to begin the adventure of a lifetime. He walks 3,000 miles across the continentpushing a shopping cart sprayed red, white and blue to raise money for homeless veterans.
“They all thought I was a little crazy, and I think that’s understandable,” the 24-year-old said last week from Tennessee, where he currently trudges across America’s back roads and byways.
Pasquale, who grew up in Randolph, NJ, and lives in Manasquan, NJ, has raised $15,000 so far on a trip he took in several social media feeds. To date, he has made his way from 925 miles through Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. He plans to end his trip in Venice Beach, California in seven months.
He is motivated by “knowing the sacrifices so many men and women have made to this country to enable opportunities for me and everyone else,” he said via Zoom. “They’ve done their part to make this country great, so I just want to return the favor.”
Pasquale, who studied marketing and management at Seton Hall, said his family thought he was being sarcastic growing up as he walked across the country. But he was captivated by the idea and felt 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 to prepare. Around Memorial Day, he started training with daily beach walks to get in shape. “I made the decision to take the opportunity and go for it,” said Pasquale.
For the past two months, he’s been out and about with a cart modified with oversized wheels and adorned with a large sign advertising his campaign. He starts early in the morning and usually runs 20 to 25 miles a day and stops between 5 and 7 p.m.
The cart carries Pasquale’s personal belongings, a camping tent and food items such as canned beans, peanut butter, granola bars, jerky and nuts. “Occasionally I need something substantial, so I stop to get some fast food at places like Walmart,” he said.
His nights are completely different from two months ago. Pasquale has pitched his tent at campgrounds, churches, fire departments, and local veterans of foreign wars and American legions. Friends and Good Samaritans have offered help along the way.
“There have been nice people who let me set up the tent in their yard,” he said. “Occasionally I stay at a motel and then I have some friends who have been generous enough to let me get on their couch.”
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Pasquale is on his second cart. The first broke on day six, but two friends came to the rescue: “My friends Nico and Ben bought a Home Depot cart, modified it and brought it to me the next day,” he said.
Pasqale said he raised awareness of the an estimated 40,000 American veterans who go to sleep homeless every night. “I find that a shocking number and unacceptable,” he said.
“Helping veterans in any way has always been something I’ve been passionate about,” Pasquale added. “I have some family members who are veterans and many friends who are veterans or on active duty.”
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Pasquale said he battled aches and pains, but overall his body has held up well. “The mental part, it’s definitely exhausting,” he said.
He plans to take a southerly route for the rest of the trip, passing through Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before reaching the Pacific Ocean, hopefully surrounded by friends and relatives.
It has been a time of reflection, alone on the road. Pasquale said he was most impressed with people’s hospitality, their willingness to help a stranger no matter where they come 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 in different parts of this country,” he said. “But wherever I am, people like to welcome me.”