By the time this article goes to print, Todd Hitchings will be several miles into the wilderness on Vermont’s Long Trail, which traverses the ridgeline of the Green Mountains from Massachusetts to Quebec. St Through crowdsourcing, his 272-mile journey has already raised $9,623.02 for Martha’s Vineyard Community Service’s Substance Use Recovery Programs, just short of its $10,000 target. The thing is, Mr. Hitchings has already had to raise his monetary goal twice, because the Island community keeps smashing through it.
Mr. Hitchings, a West Tisbury native, said he always wanted to take on a long distance through-hike. When he finally got the chance this fall, he decided to leverage the opportunity to give back to his community. Originally, he set his crowdsourcing goal at $2,720, as a nod to the Long Trail’s mileage. Feeling bashful about his request for donations, he turned off the notifications on his phone and went for a run. When he returned an hour later, he had already raised more than $1,000. Within 24 hours, he’d met his initial goal. Mr. Hitchings raised the stakes to $5,000, and again donors blew it out of the water. Finally, a friend convinced Mr. Hitchings to up the ante to $10,000, and donations have been climbing steadily ever since.
“It’s really cool; the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Mr. Hitchings said. “I have people popping out of the woodwork from all different facets of my life, all different times of my life, to throw money at the cause.” The donors range from old friends to people Mr. Hitchings has never met before. “I think everybody can identify with it; it hits home for everybody,” Mr. Hitchings said. “Addiction doesn’t discriminate.”
Like so many young people on Martha’s Vineyard, Mr. Hitchings has experienced the consequences of opioid addiction up close and personal. “I’ve had friends who have passed away, I’ve had friends who have been brought back to life because of Narcan, I’ve had friends steal from me,” Mr. Hitchings said. “I think it’s representative of what a lot of people my age are going through. It touches everybody, and it’s pretty much always in a negative way.”
Mr. Hitchings chose Community Services as a beneficiary for its specific focus on recovery-based programs. After conferring with friends in recovery and in the public health field, Mr. Hitchings said, “It seemed to be the consensus that that was the avenue to go.”
He stresses his efforts are just as much about raising awareness as they are about raising funds. “Money goes as far as money goes, but it can never go as far as people talking about it,” Mr. Hitchings said. “Word of mouth is huge in telling people that it’s OK, you can talk about it, and it’s not a one-way street; you can turn around.”
Mr. Hitchings is a popular Island landscaper, known among friends for his positive attitude and kind smile. As lifelong friend Peter Tucker wrote alongside his donation to the campaign, “Todd is an amazing person with an incredibly kind heart.” Another donor noted Mr. Hitchings is “always the clever leader and good friend.”
Above all, Mr. Hitchings wants his friends to know that they have a support system and confidant. “I always tell my friends, if they ever need to talk about anything, I’m here,” Mr. Hitchings said. “Not many of them have taken me up on it, but the offer always stands. I hope they know that.”
It’s this deep caring for people that causes Mr. Hitchings to feel frustration, sadness, and helplessness at the opioid crisis around him. His journey will be a chance for personal healing as well.
“Anytime you take an entire month of your life to go spend it by yourself in the woods, I think you’re going to have a lot of self-reflection and reflection on every aspect of your life,” Mr. Hitchings said. He knows he will draw inspiration from the positive support his campaign has garnered, and not just on the bluebird fall days when Vermont’s sugar maples blush with peak foliage. “When it’s raining for a week straight, or I’m waist-deep in a muddy, mosquito-infested swamp, I’ll be able to draw from the positive feelings surrounding this whole effort,” Mr. Hitchings said. “And I know that will give me the resolve to keep moving.”
For more information, updates, or to donate money to the Hiking to Help campaign, visit give.everydayhero.com/us/hike-for-opioid-awareness.