Spirit of giving unifies Presque Isle volunteers

Posted Dec. 29, 2011, at 5:59 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The spirit of giving is alive and well this year, thanks in part to a local church and its members who volunteered time to refurbish apartments for those less fortunate. Volunteers used various donated materials to restore the units managed by Homeless Services of Aroostook.

“Our men’s group had been discussing ways to help others and we thought this was a good way to benefit our own community,” said the Rev. Ron Chaffee of Grant Memorial Methodist Church, noting past efforts included church members helping with cleanup after Hurricane Katrina.

Chaffee said Steve Eyler, executive director of Homeless Services of Aroostook, recently explained to members some of the needs of his organization and the people who use the services it provides.

“Steve came to the men’s breakfast in November and told us of the needs of HSA’s transitional housing. He explained the services such as how many bed nights are provided and that residents are only allowed to stay 30 days at the shelter before they are required to move on,” said the pastor.

“Steve told us that, based on their income, some [people] can qualify for a transitional housing unit. But the problem has been many of the units are uninhabitable — needing repairs, etc.,” said Chaffee.

Because of that, the men’s club decided this year to help restore apartments operated by HSA in the neighborhood across from Northern Maine Community College.

“We’ve done projects in places like Mississippi but having a project presented in our own backyard — we thought this would be a wonderful way to help people closer to home,” said the pastor.

In preparing for a recent sermon, Chaffee said Matthew Chapter 25 seemed appropriate, “I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.”

“Here was an opportunity to get the whole church on board; an opportunity to take from Jesus’ experience of being homeless,” said Chaffee.

“These apartments serve as steppingstones for those less fortunate; a way to help them get back on their feet,” said Chaffee.

The group was able to turn several units back into livable space.

“They made three transitional housing units livable, providing windows, toilets, lights and more, bringing them up to code and making them a comfortable place to call home,” said Eyler.

In addition, volunteers helped create needed storage space for HSA.

“Space in our shelter is prime real estate. In addition to the three apartments, the group also built shelves in our office and garage. The garage storage will be used to put tenants’ belongings, such as extra clothing and other possessions. Our basement storage will be used as a ‘free’ store where collected/donated items will be placed for future use by occupants of our housing,” said Eyler.

“We wanted to build shelves for Steve to give him a place to store donated items [such as] household products, clothing,” said Chaffee.

Chaffee said church members also are looking for ways to benefit the community through projects such as recycling.

“We’re recycling at our church, keeping things out of the landfill,” he said.

Chaffee said the shelter project was well-received by Eyler and his tenants, as well as by members of the church.

“We had such a good response, we were able to tackle a couple apartments, put up some shelving. We’re not sure what our next project will be. We’ll see where it takes us,” said the pastor.

Cleanup and restoration work began Dec. 8, with nearly two dozen volunteers pitching in to help. Work was expected to be completed by Dec. 17.

“We wanted to finish these by Dec. 17, so people can focus on Christmas and the holidays. We supplied the labor and the love, area businesses including S.W. Collins and J.M. Huber supplied materials. We also purchased additional items to do the work, helping to support area businesses too,” said Chaffee.

Chaffee said he expected to see more such activities taking place.

“I think more will happen in the future. Local clergy are meeting monthly. We’re not sure where the focus will carry us. We’re trying to show [that] though we’re different denominations, we can try to act as the arms, hands and feet of Jesus Christ,” said Chaffee. “We can show through working together we can make a difference in someone else’s life.”

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