Maine’s population is about the size of single cities in other states. Everyone seems connected in some way. It’s difficult to eat at a restaurant without knowing someone at the next table. People help their neighbors. And when people in one part of Maine are hurting, the state responds.
An arson fire in Lewiston on Monday, April 29, destroyed three apartment buildings, displaced 75 people and caused more than $1 million in damage. Then another arson fire on Friday destroyed three apartment buildings, left 105 people homeless and caused more than $1 million in damage. A third fire on Monday destroyed two vacant buildings that were being remodeled and damaged a third apartment building.
Luckily, no one was killed or injured, but the fires caused residents to fear for their lives and the lives of others. Yet, the response to aid was also overwhelming as Maine residents acted quickly to help out the victims of the fires.
“We have had such an outpouring of support from the community,” said Jennifer Gaylord, branch manager at the United Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross.
The Lewiston Sun Journal reported on community members helping one another: Lewiston High School set up a temporary shelter. Businesses provided breakfast and dinner. Teachers filled backpacks for their students who lost everything. Bus drivers donated their time and money to help collect donation items. The YWCA of Central Maine served as a drop-off and collection point for household items for fire victims.
It’s not too late to help. Here are some ideas:
— Give to the United Valley Branch of the Red Cross — 1180 Lisbon St., Suite 2, Lewiston, ME 04240 — to help with disaster relief. The Red Cross provides fire victims with prepaid credit cards, so they can purchase what they need. Last year the organization served 60 people. This year, so far, it’s served 400. Organize a fundraiser, or give via mail, phone, online or text. If you don’t want to give directly, consider using an online site for your daily activities that raises money on the side, such as Good Search or Social Vest.
— The YWCA received so many items to give to fire victims that it stopped accepting them, as people do not yet have a place to store them. The organization is instead encouraging people to give household items to the Salvation Army. The YWCA is, however, in great need of volunteers to help sort items. And it has established a separate fund with Northeast Bank to care for victims’ long-term needs, once emergency care has ended, Executive Director Kathy Durgin-Leighton said. People may mail checks to YWCA, 130 East Ave., Lewiston, ME 04240, with “Lewiston fire victims account” in the memo line. A committee comprised of local leaders will determine how to disburse the funds, 100 percent of which will go to fire victims.
— Consider becoming a Red Cross volunteer or at least thanking one. “We have two paid staff in our office, so we rely on our volunteers when disasters like this happen,” Gaylord said. More than 40 trained volunteers have been involved in the last week to assist fire victims, finish casework and help find people safe places to stay. If you don’t want to volunteer directly, consider giving blood at a local blood drive or donation center.
— No one expects to be involved in a disaster, but it’s helpful to be prepared. If you don’t know how to perform CPR or give First AID, consider learning how. Take a class, or, if you run a business, consider having training for your employees.
— Schools in Lewiston are gathering food and other items for firefighters, many of whom have been working nearly constantly. Find out what your local school is doing to get involved.