MACHIAS, Maine — How can I help?
It’s a question that lingers with each fresh glimpse of the despair and devastation now affecting millions enduring the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the East Coast superstorm that largely spared Maine.
While donations from throughout the country and the world are pouring in to long-established relief organizations like the American Red Cross, more individual, grass-roots efforts are brewing as well, including some originating Down East.
Since Thursday morning, a Machias couple has been using social media to knit together a far-reaching coalition of those who, like themselves, want to help. Matt Bauman and Faye Mack have been reaching out to friends and family as near to home as Pittsfield, just south of Bangor, and as far from home as Windsor Locks in Connecticut.
“This is not about us,” says Bauman, who with Mack operates the Fat Cat Deli restaurant in the Washington County community of Machias. “It’s about getting people what they need. Speaking by phone with organizations down there, I’ve been told from people on the scene they need things like blankets, socks, batteries, water and nonperishable food.”
Bauman plans to beg, borrow or rent a truck and drive south to the epicenter of the storm’s wrath, leaving Machias on Nov. 14. How big a truck, he says, is anyone’s guess, depending on what level of response there is to what he’s dubbed “Hurricane Sandy Rescue — Downeast.”
“This is all a moving target, and I have no idea what to expect,” he says. “But nothing ventured, nothing gained. I thought about going down sooner, but I expect that there are areas that are unsafe to go into, even if you could. I’ll spend all of next week trying to set up drop-off points for donations, from Princeton to Bangor.”
For now, donations are being accepted at the couple’s Route 1 restaurant in Machias, at the eBay-It Store next to The Bluebird Ranch Family Restaurant on Lower Main Street in Machias and at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Pittsfield. Bauman said those who want to help through a cash donation can do so online at www.fundrazr.com/campaigns/dNbP7.
“Cash will help with fuel for the truck,” he said. “We just began yesterday, so I don’t know if I’ll be heading down in a station wagon with $1 in my pocket, or a box truck with hundreds of dollars. If we have any excess cash, when I get there, I’ll go to the nearest supermarket and buy whatever is needed most.”
Despite the time, effort and endless logistics of organizing a direct and ad hoc relief program, Bauman sees one advantage: knowing how your direct assistance has helped others.
“I always feel anonymous when I donate to a relief effort,” he says. “This way I can report back to donors that this is where your pair of socks or your jug of water went.”
In Bar Harbor, New York City native Nessa Reifsnyder said Friday she felt “helpless” in trying to offer comfort to friends and family who live and work in neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey that were reduced overnight into disaster zones. She owns Fabricate, a downtown Bar Harbor retail fabric and sewing supply shop that caters to quilters and others into fabric arts.
“We’re all sitting here, feeling the devastation,” she said. “We have a basement classroom where everybody with resources — even beginners — can make 14-inch blocks that can be completed into queen-size and king-size quilts. We will have done something.”
On Sunday morning Reifsnyder opened her shop’s doors at 64 Mount Desert St. to welcome those who accepted her invitation to participate in a group effort to create quilts for storm survivors.
“I worked this morning with a woman from Great Britain who had never quilted before, and there are three others coming in this afternoon,” she said Sunday. “People have also been dropping by fabric, and I think we have the substance of three quilts. Obviously this is not a one-day project; we’ll be working on this for weeks.”
Maine’s official response to the Hurricane Sandy relief effort has involved dispatching teams of state workers to the disaster area. Earlier this week an emergency command center staffed by Maine Forest Service workers headed to New York. On Friday, a volunteer multidisciplinary team of emergency operations specialists left Maine to report to the Emergency Operations Center in Brooklyn. Among others, that team included emergency support specialists from Maine National Guard units, the Departments of Public Safety and Transportation and the Maine Emergency Management Agency. On Sunday, a team of Maine State Police troopers and Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department deputies left for New Jersey.
Lynette Miller, a spokesperson with the state’s Emergency Management Agency, said Friday she would encourage financial support of ongoing relief efforts rather than efforts such as Hurricane Sandy Rescue — Downeast that involve Mainers traveling into the disaster area.
“Cash donations to relief efforts already under way are the best way to help,” Miller said Friday. “Unless people are working through an on-site organization, their presence just adds to the demands in terms of feeding and housing them.”
For information on the quilting event, Reifsnyder can be reached by phone at 288-5113 or through the shop’s website, www.mdifabricate.com. Information about Hurricane Sandy Rescue — Downeast can be found at www.facebook.com/groups/543381012342157/.