January 17, 2020
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‘Cash mob’ at Waterville homeless shelter raises at least $5,000 despite bad weather

WATERVILLE, Maine — A local boy dropped off a baggie full of money he had earned selling lemonade. A couple brought in a coffee can full of pennies. Others wrote checks.

The money raised was part of a cash mob at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter on Monday, set up by Waterville Mayor Karen Heck. Despite the freezing rain, the shelter raised $5,000 by midafternoon.

“We love it. We were so excited when Mayor Heck called and said, ‘Let’s do a cash mob,’” said Betty Palmer, executive director of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter. A cash mob is a version of a flash mob in which a group of people are summoned, usually by online message, to a location to perform an action before quickly dispersing.

Palmer said the shelter was trying to raise $8,000 toward installing an elevator in the building. The total cost of the elevator is $68,000.

“We’re getting closer every minute. We hope to hit our goal by the end of the month, so that in early January, we can start putting in the elevator,” said Palmer.

Several children were among donors, including a Waterville boy who donated $65.43 — money he and two friends earned while selling lemonade.

Evan Vigue, 9, brought in the money. He and his friends Owen Harris, 10, and Carson Harris, 5, set up a lemonade stand and displayed a sign that the money would go toward helping the homeless.

“It felt so good that we raised that much for the homeless shelter,” said Vigue.

His mother was proud of him.

“He has a good heart. He worries a lot about people who don’t have a home. He talks about it a lot,” said Julie Vigue.

The cash mob also highlights homelessness during a difficult time of year for those struggling. On Monday, the shelter was above capacity with 57 people, including 22 children. The shelter’s capacity is 45 people.

“I really think there are a lot of people in this town who care about people who aren’t as lucky as some of us are,” said Heck. “It’s all about making sure that people know that they’re valued.”

Heck said she got the idea for a cash mob at the shelter after reading stories about cash mobs at local businesses.

Approximately 60 percent of those at the shelter also work, which points to problems with the minimum wage, said Heck. Maine’s minimum wage is $7.50 an hour.

“What does it say when we have a minimum wage that is less than the poverty level?” Heck asked. “People who are poor have a lot of skills. We don’t really acknowledge that.”

Once the elevator is installed, the shelter can open up the second floor to programs that could help people develop work skills. The shelter already has helped many people get GEDs, said Heck.

In addition to money, several people have donated extra winter clothing — more than the shelter needs, said Palmer.

“We had a large donation of coats and hats and mittens and boots. We have shared them all with our families and adults here at the shelter,” said Palmer. “If there’s anybody in the community that needs coats, we invite them to come down.”

The winter clothing is available until noon Tuesday, she said.

Anyone who wants to donate to the shelter can do so online at shelterme.org.

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