BANGOR, Maine — Three Maine organizations announced Tuesday that they have contributed $75,000 to address the immediate needs of 1,200 displaced workers and others affected by recent paper mill closures in northern and eastern Maine.
Of that total, $35,000 is earmarked for heating fuel assistance through Penquis and Washington Hancock Community Agency. Another $30,000 will be used for food assistance through Good Shepherd Food Bank, and $10,000 will go toward Our Katahdin to support leadership development, mentoring and communication, according to representatives of Bangor Savings Bank, the John T. Gorman Foundation and the Maine Community Foundation.
“Job loss of this magnitude has a ripple effect,” said Renae Muscatell, community relations manager for Penquis and chairwoman of the Penobscot County Transition Team, noting that mill closures often result in reduced hours, layoffs and job losses at other local businesses.
“It doesn’t get any more basic than feeding your family and staying warm,” she said. “We understand it’s not always easy for people to ask for help, but it’s our hope that these families in need would feel comfortable to ask for help. We don’t want any families to have to decide, ‘Am I going to make my house payment or am I going to put fuel in my tank.’”
Bangor Savings Bank Executive Vice President Yellow Light Breen agreed.
“Bangor Savings bank has been working in these communities for over 160 years. These are our neighbors, these are our friends and sometimes they’re even our family members, and so it’s really important to step up to the plate when you see the need that’s so great all around you.
“When your neighbor is out of work and hurting for whatever reason, maybe it’s a casserole, maybe its a load of firewood,” he said. “But when the need is this huge, when it’s 1,200 jobs across this region, we can’t do it one by one. We have to come together in order to put together a big enough source of help that can really make a difference.
“We hope people recognize that this isn’t charity, this isn’t a government program. This is neighbors helping neighbors, and we really need people to take advantage of this help if they need it,” Breen said.
Good Shepherd’s Melissa Huston said that the assistance is not limited to former millworkers.
“When a mill closes, the activity within that town shuts down,” she noted. “It’s often the owner of the local diner that no longer sees the lunchtime rush or the gas station operator that sees his customers fewer and farther between because the regulars aren’t going to and from work.”
Displaced Lincoln millworker Jamey House thanked the organizations for their assistance.
“I wanted to be here today to thank the funders,” said House, who had worked at the mill for seven years before it shut down and who now is taking college classes. “We truly appreciate everything that you are doing. It’s amazing to see the support.”
Fuel assistance will meet emergency needs for those who are eligible in 100-gallon increments. The food assistance will support local food pantries and school-based programs by not only providing food but also assisting with better distribution and storage to meet increasing demand.
Those in need should call 211 to learn more about the application process.