PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Sister Mary O’Donnell Homeless Shelter in Presque Isle on Thursday was the site of a makeover project spearheaded by employees from the local Lowe’s store as part of the company’s volunteer program.
The Lowe’s Heroes volunteer program encourages employees to team together and adopt a service project with a local nonprofit organization or K-12 public school. Past projects tackled by employees of the Presque Isle store have included work on school and public playgrounds in surrounding communities.
“We select a project in the community each year,” Jon Curtis, Lowe’s assistant store manager, said. “Each store picks their own project, with the homeless shelter being selected this year. The facility has a lot of needs, and we felt this was a good fit for our program.”
Curtis said about 18 store employees, some working their shift and others coming in to volunteer their time to the project, teamed up with nearly a half-dozen volunteers from the Family Worship Center on Aug. 28 to perform numerous upgrades at the shelter operated by Homeless Services of Aroostook.
“We’re redoing the kitchen floor, painting on the first and second floors, (and) hanging shelves,” Curtis said. “PPG Industries donated several gallons of Olympic-brand paint, while the other supplies come from Lowe’s. Lowe’s covered the cost of all other products and supplies.”
Without being specific, he said thousands of dollars go into the average project, between hours of labor and the supplies used.
“It depends on the project and what’s being done,” he said. “Prior to this project, Lowe’s had already donated a washer to the shelter.”
Kevin Guyan is a volunteer coordinator and activities director for the shelter.
“You can imagine the wear and tear in a normal home,” he said. “Picture 25 to 30 people here daily needing to do laundry. Lowe’s was great. They saved the day.”
The Presque Isle facility is the only shelter of its kind in northern Maine.
“With funding cuts to the shelter, this was definitely a need we were happy to meet,” Curtis added.
Stephen Eyler, executive director of Homeless Services of Aroostook, expressed gratitude for the extra help.
“Volunteer help is always such a big deal to us,” Eyler said. “We’re bare bones when it comes to staffing. For Lowe’s to supply the staffing and provide the manpower, these are the projects that have needed to be done for a very long time and continue to need to be done. If Lowe’s hadn’t come to us, they’d remain undone indefinitely.
“We’re incredibly grateful to Lowe’s for their generosity,” he added. “When our washer died, they helped us, delivering and installing the machine at no cost to us.”
Eyler said it “wasn’t unusual to have 25 to 30 people here at any time, with five to 10 children in-house,” which creates a steady stream of traffic through the facility and causes considerable wear on walls and floors.
“The kitchen is an intricate part of the services we provide,” he said. “It’s a high-traffic area in high use daily.”
In the past three years, Eyler said Homeless Services of Aroostook has had 563 individuals stay at the Sister Mary O’Donnell Homeless Shelter.
“Of that, 150 were children,” Eyler noted.
He said even more are turned away annually.
“Another sad statistic is, for every one we served we had to turn three away. And those are the ones we know of. The issue of homelessness in Aroostook is constant,” Eyler said. “We’re the only shelter north of Bangor for use by the general public.”
A total of nine staff members serve the needs of the shelter, as well as the transitional housing program.
“Volunteers are a crucial component. They perform the cooking and other duties. We really need them, since we can only have one staff member on at any time. Our volunteers are a real blessing,” Eyler said. “The Family Worship Center folks come every week. They volunteer, cook in the kitchen and bring extra volunteers for other projects.”
He said there’s always something going on at the facility and a need for extra hands.
Volunteers, including members of the Grant Memorial United Methodist Church, have made a big difference in keeping the transitional housing units in good condition.
“Our transitional housing units were built a long time ago and are high maintenance,” Eyler said. “Area church groups have helped paint and perform other maintenance on those.”
Eyler is grateful for public support, be it in the form of volunteer services or other donations.
“In-kind donations can be brought to the shelter,” he said. “We’re staffed 24/7 and can provide receipts for all donations for tax purposes. Food is an ongoing need. We also focus on things to meet the immediate needs of shelter residents, such as toiletries, clothing and toys for the children. We can also use car seats, strollers and things people can use when getting set up in a new place — household essentials such as pots and pans, dishes.”
For information about Homeless Services of Aroostook or to donate, visit online aroostookhomeless.org.