BANGOR, Maine — The power of social networking and the Internet has reached the Hike for the Homeless — and for the better, several organizers of the 15th annual event said Saturday morning.
The Hike for the Homeless is one of the primary fundraisers for the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, which receives 27 percent of its $500,000 budget from state and federal resources and the rest through fundraising.
Hikers leave in groups from four starting points in Bangor, Brewer, Hampden and Veazie, walking to the waterfront area near the Sea Dog restaurant.
There, they are treated to lunch, including a hot dog, potato chips and a drink.
More than 1,000 hikers — approximately 400 more than last year — participated this year.
Of this year’s participants, 52 came from an Orono-Veazie group which left from Veazie Community School. It was the smallest of the four groups. But Maria Weinberger, who represented Orono in the coordination efforts for the event, said it was double the size of last year’s Orono-Veazie group.
The key to the growth, she said, may have been the formation of an event group on Facebook, the social networking Web site. The towns also put notice of the hike on cable access television stations and publicized the event on the University of Maine campus in Orono.
“We really recruited,” said Weinberger, who is assistant town manager for Orono and is on the area public health advisory board. “Last night there were only eight people signed up [on the Facebook page], but we had a lot more here this morning.”
Dennis Marble, director of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, said he was able to spread the word of the Hike for the Homeless in ways he never had before.
The event had a Web presence this year, Marble said, thanks to Sutherland Weston Marketing Communications of Bangor, which donated its services to build a site. Then, Marble said, sponsor WLBZ-TV Channel 2 in Bangor was able to link its Web site to the event site.
There also was more coordination among volunteers, Marble added, with a core group of five or six leaders who were in charge of areas such as finance, marketing and site coordination.
“You get all that networking, with more [requests] going out, and more volunteers reaching out to other volunteers,” Marble said. “This event has grown every year.”
The final fundraising numbers won’t be available until today at the earliest, but Marble estimated donations were more than $20,000 as of Friday. He said he thought the numbers would pass $34,000, which was the amount raised last year, but may not quite hit this year’s target of $50,000.
Marble said the shelter last year served about 430 people in the overnight shelter who stayed a collective 11,300 nights — more than 90 percent of capacity. Another 1,500 were served through the day program. The number of people coming in for food has gone up this year, Marble added.
“We’ve had to turn more people away from overnight shelter,” he said.
Not many of those people come from Orono. Weinberger, who also serves as Orono’s general welfare director, makes referrals to the homeless shelter and typically does just one or two a year.
But those one or two referrals go to the Bangor shelter, because it’s the only facility of its kind in the area.
“They’re always there to help,” Weinberger said. “We’re very fortunate to have a shelter and we want to support it. They don’t ask us for money. They do the fundraising. So that’s why it’s important for us to take part.”
Weinberger teamed up this year with Veazie Town Councilor Rod Hathaway, who coordinated the event for his town.
Weinberger and Hathaway would like to increase the number of participants from Orono and Veazie.
“Next year, 100,” Weinberger said, slapping hands with Hathaway.
For information, go to www.hikingforthehomeless.org or call 947-0092.