SALT LAKE CITY — Paul Chavez has walked over 530 miles in the last 55 days.
He’s not even halfway to his destination.
Chavez is one of the founders of Walk For Peace 2020, a three-person movement made up of friends who are walking from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to promote peace and unity in a country beset by protests and pandemic.
They chose to walk because of the effect it can have on people.
“I served as a missionary for my church in D.C., and I always noticed a difference between when I was in an area where I walked, biked or was in a car,” said James Alan Thompson, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “I always reached more people by foot, and especially with us carrying these big backpacks, people tend to stop us and ask, ‘What are you doing?’”
What they are doing is walking across the country in the middle of the summer, sleeping “anywhere” they can find level ground, taking the journey in increments of 10 to 20 miles each day.
The group hopes that in doing so they share an uplifting message in an uncertain time.
“We just felt like we wanted to do something to get a positive message out to the world and to also show the goodness that’s in this country,” Thompson said. “A big part of this walk is highlighting the positive, inspiring people we meet.”
As Chavez, Thompson and the third member of their trio, Katrina Dobieski, hit the road in June, they walked away from their lives — as well as their livelihoods.
Dobieski and Thompson both worked in marketing prior to the trip and are now helping spread word about what they’re doing online. The initiative has a website, multiple social media pages and a YouTube channel to document their progress.
They also have pages where people can donate money. Currently, they rely solely on people’s donations to keep them going, whether through sites such as Patreon and GoFundMe, or in person as people meet them and hear their story.
“Our lives are on hold to do this,” Chavez said. “This has become our life.”
Their goal is to reach Washington, D.C., by Jan. 18, leaving more than 2,000 miles in their journey for the next five months.
But in the middle of their walk, the group decided to stop and hold a “kindness day” in the Beehive State, a place they’ve all spent significant time in the past.
So, while in Salt Lake City on Monday, they took an afternoon to hand out bags of food to refugees and the homeless, two groups of people they have a connection with and have identified as needing help.
- Food bags that will be handed out during a donation and distribution event for Utah refugees are pictured at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020 The event was organized by Walk for Peace 2020, a group of three friends who are walking from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to promote peace and unity. Yukai Peng, Deseret News
- Paul Chavez, left, puts the food on the table while talking to Katrina Dobieski and Kevin McDowell at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. Yukai Peng, Deseret News
- Kevin McDowell sorts food bags while putting limes in them during a donation and distribution event for Utah refugees at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020 The event was organized by Walk for Peace 2020, a group of three friends who are walking from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to promote peace and unity. Yukai Peng, Deseret News
- Paul Chavez sanitizes a knife with a cigarette lighter and alcohol sanitizer before starting making food at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. It is a donation event that the Walk for Peace organized to make food and bring supplies to help the refugees. Yukai Peng, Deseret News
- Kevin McDowell fills a croissant with chicken salad during a food donation and distribution event for Utah refugees at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020 The event was organized by Walk for Peace 2020, a group of three friends who are walking from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to promote peace and unity. Yukai Peng, Deseret News
Chavez started a refugee club while he was attending Utah Valley University years ago, which opened his eyes to the demographic, especially refugees living in Utah.
For Thompson, the homeless problem hits close to home.
“I have family who have been homeless, so my heart goes out to them. We’ve tried to do our part to serve where we can,” Thompson said. “Ultimately, we just felt like this aligns with our message of peace and kindness and acceptance. And we’re hoping that this inspires other people to do the same thing.”
“We know there’s a need here,” Chavez added. “There’s a big homeless population here. There’s a big refugee population here in Salt Lake.”
In addition to the food, they also planned to hold a fireside discussion later in the evening for the people of Salt Lake City, once again trying to spread their positive message.
While this was the first “kindness day” they’ve done, they can see themselves holding more down the road.
Thompson said he has family in Columbus, Ohio, and would love to give back to the people there. Their final destination, the nation’s capital, could also be a candidate for holding a similar event, they said.
“We think it will be better as it goes on, too,” Dobieski said. “This will start small, and we hope to continue iterating and improving.”
While they still have a ways to go, the group hopes the impact of their journey doesn’t simply end 2,000 miles away next January, once their walk is over.
“The thing I keep on saying is that this walk didn’t start in Washington, D.C., and it is not going to end in Washington, D.C.,” Thompson said. “This is something we’re going to continue to make a push for because we want more peace in the country. We want more kindness. We want to be able to set our differences aside and take care of each other.”