Up Beat is a new section of the Bangor Daily News dedicated to uplifting stories. Look for tales of people helping people and things that will make you smile.
For four hours each weekday, 25-year-old Matt Dexter stands beneath a white pop-up tent in Brewer, fulfilling the labor of love that he started six years ago. He waits for cancer patients, referred to him by social workers at the nearby Lafayette Family Cancer Center, to drop by. Then he asks them what kind of groceries they might like, and fills a cardboard box for them to take home.
“Nutrition assistance is a big focus,” he said, describing the work he’s doing on behalf of the Christine B. Foundation, which he founded back in 2014. He now serves as its executive director. The foundation is named after his mom, who lost her battle with cancer when Dexter was just 13.
Come rain or snow or wind, Dexter stands under that tent, greets new clients, and makes sure they get fed. And now, thanks to a recent collaboration with the United Way of Eastern Maine, and Tip Whip, a free ride-sharing company founded by Bangor’s Spencer Wood, those groceries are also available by delivery in Penobscot, Piscataquis, Hancock and Washington counties.
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As of Thursday, a ticker on the CBF’s website showed that more than 3,700 meals had been provided to eastern Mainers since March 25.
The collaboration with the ride-sharing company is an interesting one that’s a product of this time. Wood, 29, founded Tip Whip in 2014 as a way to ensure that college students could find safe rides home, whether they could afford a cab or Uber or not. If those riders can afford a tip, the driver will appreciate it. And if they can’t? A corporate sponsor will pay the tip to the driver, and maybe the rider will pay it forward some day. Tip Whip began at the University of Maine, but is now found on 15 college campuses.
Wood said a few weeks back, he sent out an email “Caring for the Tip Whip community” to 3,500 students who had the Tip Whip app on their phones, and learned that 75 percent of those students opened it. That got him to thinking: What would happen if he could mobilize the loyal Tip Whip drivers in another way?
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He called Jesse Moriarty, chief operating officer of United Way of Eastern Maine, and they quickly found work for those Tip Whip drivers. About 100 are now performing tasks that United Way volunteers would typically do. Among those efforts: Delivering groceries for the Christine B. Foundation.
“We’re not giving rides to students. There’s no school,” Wood said. “So for me it was, how do we remain valuable, how do we help and how do we give back to the community and our riders and drivers in general?”
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Moriarty said Wood’s call came at the perfect time, as the pandemic spread and volunteers became even more vital to United Way’s mission.
“We realized really early on in the process that there was going to be a major issue with volunteers because oftentimes volunteers tend to be folks who are retired,” Moriarty said. “And so we realized really quickly that those folks are actually in that risk category, and that it would be better to get some younger folks in to help with our volunteers.”
Enter Tip Whip.
The collaboration with the Christine B. Foundation isn’t the only thing keeping Tip Whip busy nowadays. Wood said his 100 volunteer drivers have pitched in in various ways, including, over the past few days, shuttling the dogs of older Mainers to grooming appointments so the pet owners can avoid going out in public.
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Moriarty said United Way is well-schooled in “incentivizing volunteers,” and though drivers aren’t seeking tips for the tasks they perform, Wood said those who are working for Tip Whip receive price breaks for gas, as well as gift cards from a variety of businesses.
Dexter said he’s thankful that Christine B. Foundation has been able to reach out to more clients in need through the Tip Whip drivers.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s truly a blessing,” he said.
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In 90 minutes on Thursday, all of those groceries had been handed out to those who stopped by. But Dexter told the clients not to worry. Things would be just fine. The Christine B. Foundation has a supply system in place that lets them access more food quickly when needed.
“We stayed throughout our shift there and we collected more and more and more addresses from people wanting items and we were so happy that we can confidently say, ‘In four to five hours, there will be a package at your front door,’” Dexter said.
If you’re interested in exploring volunteering opportunities with United Way of Eastern Maine, go to unitedwayem.org/vip/
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.