The "Other Maine" Project
Reported by Dawn Degenhardt
October 10, 2010
The “Other Maine” Project (formerly known as “Clothes for the County” is a project providing good quality new clothing, school supplies, books, back packs, and other needed merchandise to the rural poor living in Aroostook and Washington Counties in northern Maine. The name was changed recently as the program is a lot more than just clothing now. The “Other Maine” Project was chosen as Northern Maine is often spoken of as the other Maine as it is as different from Southern Maine as it can be. There is such poverty as the lumber and paper mills have mostly closed leaving only agriculture and service agencies for job opportunities. It is one of the most depressed areas in the United States, even before the current economic depression. It is often the coldest place in the nation and we are so isolated – from four to six hours north of Portland.
The project began three years ago when I was at a conference. Two gentlemen over lunch asked if we could distribute their over-runs and unsold inventory – it was brand new and they just could not throw it out – as they knew that many people could use it. They were from Southern Maine, a company that personalizes top quality clothing, office supplies and other advertising merchandise for industry and for companies like McDonalds, TDAmerica, Hannaford, Tyler and many other organizations. Soon 16 pallets arrived (over 180 boxes) of merchandise to be distributed. We had no place to put it as our office is very small, but the owner of our office building allowed us to temporarily store it in an empty office and to line the halls until we could distribute it.
Our goal was to distribute everything to children of the working poor, seniors on fixed incomes and others in need who did not quality for other programs of welfare, food stamps, etc. With the economic situation it was evident that people who did not quite qualify, or were too proud to ask, for assistance for these programs and were barely making it before the recent increase in prices were now becoming destitute and were unable to pay for their needed expenses, let alone buy new clothes or other needed merchandise. That first year we had so much 'stuff' that we were able to give truck loads to the Salvation Army to distribute. They were very eager to honor the request of the donor that they give it away and not put it in their thrift shop.
|We receive hundreds of new high quality pajamas thru the Pajama Program. Left: Julie Flewelling and Marilyn Roper sorting the PJ's.|
This project just happened to us – we did not plan it or plan to develop it further. However, I do not believe in coincidences – we were being led so it was important to continue to grow the program and accept these wonderful shipments of merchandise. But we needed a volunteer to direct and develop the program, especially after we discovered the great need in the area and the availability of merchandise. Dannette Ellis, a volunteer and very good friend, who had been involved with the first distribution became very interested and excited about the possibilities of helping so many in need. (Read about Dannette in the “Who We Are” section).
Once Dannette began her search for companies with excess merchandise and organizations around the country whose sole purpose was to gather donations and ship them to charities like ours for distribution to those that needed it most. First it was the Pajama Program and then the Slankets – then bedding, books, book bags, school supplies and the list goes on. Dannette partnered with schools, homeless shelters, pregnancy resource centers, soup kitchens, battered women’s shelters, churches, and people in the community who would contact us and tell us of someone in need. Over the past 12 months over $150,000 of new merchandise has been distributed with the help of 38 different organizations and centers. And that is just the beginning.
Mountains of sheets!
In July Dannette contacted Jennifer Francis, founder of the Bess the Book Bus Project after she saw her on a national TV show. She called her and asked if she would come to Maine and distribute new books and she did. Dannette arranged a book fair at the Houlton community center with bouncing houses, face painting, clowns, hotdogs, chips, popcorn and drinks, and raffled door prizes. Over 500 kids came to this fun event and went away with several books each. In the meantime, Dannette contacted First Book, an organization that gives new books to children to build their personal library and we soon qualified to be a networking partner. They sent us 8,500 new books to be distributed – where to put them – in my garage – and stuff keeps coming.
Last week alone Dannette distributed books to the Houlton, Hodgdon, Caribou, Fort Fairfield, Presque Isle, Danforth, Sherman/Patten and Mars Hill schools and to the three ACAP centers in Houlton.
Our greatest need is to find donated space – a store front or warehouse – where we can temporarily organize and house our merchandise until we can write enough grants and fundraise for the purpose of purchasing our own building. Once we have a building we know we can qualify for receiving all of the school supplies, books, equipment, clothing and other merchandise that we can possibly distribute. We recently received three life size torso models with over 250 parts which will be used for teaching anatomy and health classes in the Houlton and Hodgdon Schools. We are hoping to purchase more of these models for other schools in the area. The models are free to us – but the handling and shipping costs are $75.00. The list price for these models is over $600 each.
We would appreciate your help - any suggestions of possible free space or information of possible grants or donors. We also are requesting donations and will be needing volunteers to help with deliveries. With everyone working together we will be able to help our schools and other service organizations help more people in the “Other Maine”.
As a side benefit we are saving the land fill – as in the past that is where these items would end up.
|The Other Maine on Facebook
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Aid for Kids
18 Market Square
Houlton ME 04730
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