BELFAST, Maine — Wanted: live insects for a hungry pet gecko whose owner is too scared to venture out to a store right now.
Searching for: someone in the Portland area who could run to a store for a mother stuck home with her sick baby and needs baby Tylenol, breast milk storage bags and Gatorade.
Available: free Facebook Live home workouts at 7 a.m. daily until the gyms open back up again.
These postings, and much more, can be found on the Maine Coronavirus Community Assistance Facebook page, launched last week by an Orono woman who initially thought it would be helpful for her and a couple of her friends. But followers of the group have swelled to more than 12,000 and counting — a clear sign that as the state’s public spaces shut down and people are urged to stay home, there’s a need for community that cannot be quenched.
“I think everyone was looking for some way to get involved,” Cass Clemmer, 27, who founded the group, said.
Clemmer, an emergency medical technician who has a background in public health education, is a trained crisis counselor.
“I’ve done public health awareness and information, particularly during times of crisis,” she said. “I wanted to help and I was trying to find places where I could help.”
You could say that it’s an instinct that runs in her family. Clemmer’s parents, Bill and Ann Clemmer, are missionaries. He’s a doctor, she’s a teacher, and while their home base is Orono, the family lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the Ebola outbreak in 1995. Her parents were also there during the more recent 2018 outbreak. Clemmer said that her parents are her heroes, and that she has learned a lot from them about how to act during challenging times.
“Through every crisis we went through in Congo, their question throughout the chaos was always ‘How can we help?’” Cass Clemmer said. “I guess I figured it’s my turn now to step up to the plate and ask the same question.”
The Facebook page she started has gathered momentum as members share questions, concerns, worries, hopes and proffer help. Clemmer is administering the group now with help from her friend Em Burnett, but it’s grown into a “collective movement.”
“It’s Mainers helping Mainers,” Clemmer said. “Connecting people who need help with people who can provide help.”
But they want to be careful in the way that happens. They are developing guidelines which include asking people to not give medical advice unless they are medical professionals and deleting posts that are not in the spirit of collaboration or that spread misinformation. They also are collaborating with the Maine People’s Alliance on MainersTogether, a new website dedicated to a community-based response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Something that Clemmer hopes will come out of the Facebook page is a robust list of resources, ways that regular folks can give or get help during the hard times that have just begun.
“This is going to get worse,” she said. “We have to prepare for it as best we can.”
She is heartened by the kindness she sees in the Maine Coronavirus Community Assistance group.
“There are people who say, ‘I’ve run out of toilet paper.’ And within minutes, people jump on and say, ‘I have roll, I have a roll.’ We’ve had people just reaching out. When you hear stories about price gouging, and people hoarding resources, you can get discouraged,” she said. “But it’s cool to see that Mainers are so engaged. I’m blown away by everybody that’s part of it. I’m super grateful. And I feel really proud to be from Maine.”