Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in an occasional series called Maine Acts of Kindness, highlighting volunteer and philanthropic efforts during the pandemic.

The Facebook group Maine Needs has partnered with the Point Community Center in South Portland to set up a “Love Crate” for donations of goods that are then packaged into kits by volunteers and delivered to families in need of assistance. Photo courtesy of Angela Stone

About a year ago, Angela Stone realized that a lot of people in her community needed help.

She had just visited the apartment of a family that had left a homeless shelter “and I saw they had nothing,” she said.

So Stone, a 37-year-old who lives in Cumberland, started a Facebook group known as Maine Needs, to help families with donations of food, household cleaning items or cash.

It now has 5,912 members and, aided by The Point Community Center in South Portland, recently delivered 400 kits of food, hygiene products and cleaning materials to needy families in Greater Portland. They also put together and donated 70 care kits to In Her Presence, an initiative for women from minority communities in Maine.

“The group continues to grow,” said Stone. “It has grown bigger than I could have anticipated.”

Maine Needs works closely with caseworkers, visiting nurses, teachers, or other health care professionals to discover the needs of certain families. And as more people have become unemployed during the pandemic, the requests have increased, especially from families with young children.

“A lot of families are afraid to leave their house,” said Stone. She added that those with babies and toddlers don’t want to get on the bus and then stand in long lines at a food pantry or grocery store when “chances are high they wouldn’t be able to get what needed.”

Stone said the work of Maine Needs is all made possible by the generosity of a lot of people. She simply had the idea of reaching out on Facebook. “You start with mom groups and things take off,” she said.

Rather than toss out old clothes, or household items, or baby items, Maine Needs gives people a place to donate items that will go directly to those who need them.

“We find organizations that have needs and we help them,” said Bonnie Harlow, a retired teacher who lives in Gorham. “We’re working with caseworkers, or a nurse might text us and say, ‘I have a mother who’s giving birth in a week. She needs a bassinet and a car seat. Through that group of 6,000 people someone will say, ‘I’ve got one.’

“We’re not trying to take the place of organizations that already exist but help them fulfill their needs and community needs. In this age of sustainability and reuse, there are large numbers of people who say they’ve got a brand new stroller, or a crib, and they generously donate it, want it to be used by someone else. They want it to have a purpose.”

As the pandemic has gone on, Stone said they have decided to concentrate on “diapers, cleaning supplies, toiletries and specific supplemental food.”

Cash donations are also accepted. Harlow said two women donated their $1,200 stimulus check to Maine Needs. “An awful lot of people are working hard at this,” she said.

Maine Needs had a couple of physical locations where donated items could be picked up. But those had to close because of the pandemic. Now, Maine Needs has partnered with The Point Community Center, whose volunteers collect the items, put the kits together and deliver them.

“This really fits our outreach model,” said Keenan Eaton, the connections director for Eastpoint Christian Church in South Portland. “We want to partner well with an existing organization in the community and help people take the next step.”

And that’s what Maine Needs is really all about, said Stone – helping others get back on their feet, especially now with so much uncertainty.

“Even though people are incredibly resilient, not all of life needs to be about fighting adversity,” she said. “We want to lessen those stresses, especially for people who have already gone though so much. We can help.”

CHILD CARE FOR ESSENTIAL WORKERS

The Sanford-Springvale YMCA and the Trafton Senior Center are making sure members of their communities are well served in the pandemic.

The YMCA is offering child care to essential workers, first responders and health care workers.

Matt Ouellette, the youth development director at the YMCA, said about 20 to 25 children in kindergarten to grade six stay at the YMCA from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

While the YMCA is closed for exercise, it is able to offer child care to those working through the pandemic. “This is about our commitment to the community and the needs our community has,” said Ouellette.

During the day the staff helps the children with any schoolwork they might have while also doing “a lot of cool stuff,” said Ouellette.

The Trafton Center, which is also affiliated with the YMCA, offers programs to adults 50 and older. It is also shut down but is still reaching out to its members.

Robin Bibber, the Trafton Center director, said that while many “seniors in Sanford seem pretty self-sufficient,” there are those who need check-in phone calls, or to have groceries or medications picked up and delivered. “We’re just like a lot of people, trying to do what we can,” said Bibber.

The Trafton Center has also started a community pantry that includes food and personal hygiene products for Sanford’s homeless community  as well as “people who need access to these items,” said Bibber. People drop by the Trafton Center and take what they need from the pantry.

The pantry is stocked with donations from the community. “Everyone has been very supportive,” said Bibber.

One of the programs they offer is online bingo on Wednesday nights.

“It’s a fun as a way to connect with people,” said Bibber, who calls out the numbers. “I’m hearing they feel isolated and lonely and we’re trying to reduce it any way.”

Are there folks in your community going out of their way to help others during the virus outbreak? If so, please send details about their efforts to [email protected]

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