Chad Klimack, Reporter The Newark Advocate April 15, 2016
ETNA – Deb Dingus continued her 50-day journey around Licking County on Thursday and Friday, entering the western portion of the county for the first time.
Dingus, the executive director of the United Way of Licking County, started her Give Walk Do campaign on April 7 in Newark. Since then, she has camped in sub-freezing temperatures — she awoke to snow on her tent twice — and hiked through the rain. As she entered Etna Township on Thursday the sun was shining, the temperatures were flirting with 70 degrees and Dingus remained upbeat and focused on her varied mission: To raise $50,000 for the United Way, while also drawing attention to the agency’s programs and spurring county residents to volunteer.
“I say I’m doing this by choice,” she said. “Many people do not have a choice.”
Dingus’ 50-day journey is taking her through every township in the county.
On Thursday, she awoke at her campsite in Buckeye Lake and started walking toward the Etna Township Hall. She spent the bulk of the time walking alongside U.S. 40, venturing through Kirkersville along the way.
Jeff Gill, pastor at Newark Christian Church, walked alongside her, and Dingus said she has been overwhelmed by the support she has received in the early part of her 50-day campaign.
“I had one lady pull over next to me on the street,” Dingus said. “It was raining, and she rolled down her window and asked if I was homeless. She shared her story: She had (battled) drug addiction and been homeless, and she pulled out $7 and said, ‘Take this.'”
Other people, like Gill, have volunteered to walk beside her, keeping her company. Still others have worked to ensure her nightly camp outs are as comfortable as possible, providing snacks or support.
One homeless woman even stopped by her campsite in Hebron to check on her.
“What’s really surprising is the number of people who stop and want to help,” said Dingus, who said the support has been “heartwarming.”
When Dingus stopped at the Etna Township Hall, Trustee John Carlisle presented her with a slice of cake. The Watkins Memorial High School jazz band also performed, and afterward everyone ate donated pizza.
The following day, after another night sleeping in a tent, Dingus picked up her 40-pound backpack and started walking toward her next stop at Licking Heights High School in Pataskala.
She plans on spending the next three days in the city: On Saturday, she is going to walk from the high school to the the Licking County Family YMCA Western Branch on Broad Street before camping in nearby Foundation Park. Pataskala Mayor Mike Compton and local Boy Scouts, among others, intend to join her. On Sunday, she is going to walk to First Presbyterian Church of Pataskala, and on Monday she is going to make stops at Licking Memorial Health Systems’ Pataskala campus, Coughlin Automotive and, finally, the Nutrcacker Family Restaurant. Come Tuesday, she will make her way north to Jersey Township, but along the way she is going to speak to the Pataskala Area Chamber of Commerce at its monthly luncheon at Pataskala Grace Church on Headleys Mill Road.
During her stay in Etna Township, Dingus said one of her main goals is to draw attention to the United Way of Licking County Community Blueprint, which identifies the county’s most-pressing issues.
One of those issues is drug and alcohol abuse, particularity the abuse of heroin and opiates.
“It just seems like everybody can share a story about someone who has been affected by this epidemic,” said Dingus, noting she has talked to former addicts along her walk.
Homelessness is another pressing issue facing the county, Dingus said.
At one point in her walk, Dingus came across a homeless encampment.
She also talked to a homeless woman who stayed warm on frigid nights by stuffing plastic grocery bags down her clothes.
Dingus added issues such as heroin and opiate abuse and homelessness are not confined to one area of the county. They are present county wide, including in western Licking County.
“I have had (Pataskala) Mayor Mike Compton call me looking for help (for homeless people),” she said.
The United Way of Licking County wants to expand its reach in western Licking County, Dingus said. The organization already offers or funds a host of programs and services in the Pataskala area, but Dingus said it needs to offer more.
In the meantime, Dingus intends to continue spreading her message as she slowly walks through the county, one community and township at a time.
The condescend version of that message: “We’re all in this community, and it’s important for us to pull together,” she said.
Follow the 50-day journey
People can follow Deb Dingus as she makes her way through Licking County on the United Way of Licking County’s website at www.unitedwaylc.org or via the agency’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, which are being updated frequently.