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Five Town Samaritans use social media to help in crisis

By Susan Mustapich | Mar 24, 2020
Courtesy of: Five Town Samaritans A woman who works for an agency that assists families in need posted a request for food, which brought donations within a couple of hours and more that continued to come in the next day.

The Five Town Samaritans (COVID-19), a virtual group on Facebook, is bringing together people who need assistance and people willing to help, in the communities of Camden, Rockport, Hope, Appleton and Lincolnville, as measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus make aspects of everyday existence more challenging.

The grassroots effort works like a bulletin board, said Annilee Skaar, who created the Facebook group March 15.

The group started off with 17 members, Skaar said. By midday March 21, it had 630 members.

With more people signing up, the group is "doing what it's supposed to be doing. I wanted it to be organic," she said.

Members post notices to Five Town Samaritans for items or services needed, and other members post offers to assist those needs, or to independently offer help with errands or supplies, she explained.

Skaar is seeing people post that they are going out to get supplies from a store and  offering to pick things up for others.

"With people in the community who are at risk, it's better to have one person doing this," she said

The virtual requests and responses mirror the small-town feel of the five-town communities. One person was searching for a book in a series they are reading, "and, of course, somebody had it, and dropped it off at their house," Skaar said.

"It's a way of helping to connect people, because people just really want to help right now," Skaar said. "Maybe you need help. Maybe you know someone who needs help."

Kate Edge, who works for an organization that assists families, put out a request for assistance for a single-parent family that was running out of food.

The next day she posted a photo of much of what had already been donated, with her comment, "So much gratitude...I put out a request for help yesterday for one struggling family and within a couple of hours had enough to help several families."

Edge said in March 20 email that, in addition to individual donations of toilet paper, baby wipes and bags of food, "Midcoast Diaper Project donated diapers within an hour of being asked. Long Grain restaurant donated toilet paper and food, and Aldermere Farms donated a freezer full of beef, a treat for families relying on donations of canned goods and pasta."

Members have also posted links to local resources, such as restaurants offering takeout food, Skaar said. She noted these links are often to "dynamic" documents, which others are updating to keep the information relevant.

Skaar said the idea for the Five Town Samaritans Facebook group came about when she and Camden resident Jane LaFleur brainstormed with Maria Libby, superintendent of the local elementary, middle and high schools, about how to connect people in the community with resources they need.

Libby's main concern was helping connect health care workers with those who can provide childcare, in a safe way, during school closures, Skaar said. Libby announced the closure of local schools March 16, to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. A group of teenagers volunteered to set up their own Facebook group to organize childcare, Skaar said. At the same time, she, LaFleur and a few others decided to create Five Town Samaritans to help out with other needs throughout the five towns.

Skaar has prior experience with launching a Facebook group. In 2012, she created a virtual yard sale group, which started small, then grew as it gained in popularity. She learned from managing the local yard sale group that setting limits makes it workable. While designed to be self-managing, questions need responses, and issues come up that need to be resolved, she explained. When the yard sale group climbed to 5,000 members, it outgrew her available time to manage it, and she passed it on to another person.

Skaar works at the Farnsworth Museum, currently remotely. She is not always on Facebook, and does not continually monitor the Five Towns Samaritans group, she said, but knows members help monitor the site.

"If there was anything inappropriate, such as a sales pitch, people will react to that," she said. The site is self-policing and is not for politics, profiting, or taking advantage of the situation. While humor is always helpful, there are also other places for that as well, she noted.

Skaar said that since launching the group, she has not spoken to Libby. The whole point was to provide more support without involving the superintendent, who has a very full plate at this time, she said.

Limiting the Facebook group to the five towns brings in community members who know others in the group, she said. The model is an open group, which, means once someone is a member, they can invite friends in the five towns to join.

Skaar has been asked to open Five Towns Samaritans to other neighboring towns. Her response is that she encourages people in surrounding towns to create these groups as well.

"I would love to do that but it would dilute the site," she said. "And where to do you stop? If it's too large, it's unmanageable."

She urges other others who want to create these groups to copy the Five Town Samaritan group format. "Copy and past the guidelines, about," she said "The more of these we have around for specific areas the easier it will be to manage."

Skaar said the word Samaritan is used intentionally, based in the meaning of the 'Good Samaritan Law." She noted the example of acting to save someone's life in an emergency. The premise in law is that individuals acting solely to help others without any expectation of payment are protected from liability should something go wrong, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Babysitting Task Force

Pearl Benjamin is administering the Five Towns Babysitting Task Force Facebook group with Caleb Edwards. Both are Watershed High School students in Camden.

Benjamin said in a March 21 email that the Babysitting Task Force was organized by a group of teenagers in the Camden-Rockport area looking to contribute positively to their community during the COVID-19 epidemic.

"We started by creating a Facebook page and reaching out to spread awareness," Benjamin said. They signed up nearly 30 young volunteers and are now signing up families all over the five-town area who are in need of free childcare while their jobs continue.

Requests are coming in from nurses and health care workers as well as self-employed and single moms, and some babysitters have already helped families in the communities, she reported.

"The majority of our Task Force is starting on the job next week, and we're excited to see how it goes!" Benjamin said. "Caleb Edwards and I are working as administrators matching families with volunteers, and it's a very complicated job but so far it's going well!"

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Daniel G Benson | Mar 23, 2020 01:12

You can also check out Midcoast Maine Helpers on FB that was started on March 16, 2020 to help with the needs of residents within the midcoast area. Anything from getting and transporting food, diapers, formula, to anyone and everyone in need of anything. Membership is over 2100 great ambassadors from the community that will help out their neighbors in time of need. Check it out and join to help out your neighbor. Midcoast Maine Helpers!

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Mar 22, 2020 13:07

Kudos to volunteers and a shout out to Benjamin! So responsible and still a student. WOW! God Bless everyone! Say safe!!


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