More meetings are to come after the Whitefield Cares! initiative to better meet the needs of Whitefield residents energized a group of about 20 people on Thursday, Sept. 26 at Whitefield Elementary School.
The initiative is being organized by Selectman Lise Hanners.
Hanners’ idea for the initiative came from being on the budget committee. When it came time to decide the amount of money to allocate for local service providers, Hanners was interested in knowing more about the Whitefield population that may need these resources. There was not much information available.
Hanners began talking to providers in the area.
“To my surprise, we actually have a fair number of service providers in town for food banks and clothes and various things, but no one person knew all of those things,” she said.
Hanners thought she “could get some people together and start to talk about what services we’ve got and what services we think we need and at minimum we could put a one-sheet piece of paper together that everybody could use” as a resource.
The selectman scheduled two meetings, with the first focused on inviting people to talk about needs in the community and whether there are other ways they can help. The second meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 8, will host local service providers to talk about what they do for the public and the services they view as needed, yet unavailable.
Hanners invited Joan Morin, a resident of Whitefield who works for the Maine Education Association, to facilitate the meeting.
On the first day of school, students from Whitefield Elementary were sent home with a brief survey for their parents to fill out about the local resources they use.
Of the 170 surveys sent home, 30 were returned. Of the 30 surveys, eight people reported not using any services, while 22 reported information on services they have used within the last five years.
The two most used services were general assistance, seven people, and the St. Denis Food Pantry, eight people. The survey results also show that people have used other local food pantries.
According to Hanners, some people who have needed one service have also needed others.
There was a section for people to say what services are needed in Whitefield. The two most-needed services, according to results, are before- or after-school child care and housing.
“We know that there were a couple families last year here at school where nobody realized that they were living in their car, and moving around the town of Whitefield and parking their car in different places,” Morin said.
Whitefield Elementary School Principal Mark Deblois said the school knew about one family; however, it was unsure where to send them for the most help.
With the information shared at the meeting, attendees wanted to know more about people in town. Some people were interested in a larger survey and knocking on neighbors’ doors to find out what services people need.
“You all are the army here. There is no preconceived organization of this thing. It really comes down to what we’re interested in more than what my particular vision might be,” Hanners said early in the meeting.
Two of the big needs discussed by the attendees were access to healthy food and cooking classes as well as after-school child care.
Kendra Anderson, a Whitefield resident and the school nurse, said she is currently helping about 15 families by sending a bag of food from the school’s pantry home at least once a week.
The food is purchased with donations.
After the meeting, Anderson said everything given out is easy to make, such as macaroni and cheese and canned meals.
Speaking on the idea of healthy meals, Deblois suggested getting volunteers to teach cooking classes for children who may have to cook for their younger siblings.
“Coming in to help the kids learn to cook – talk about a great project for the elderly because they are probably great cooks and they just stand there and talk to the kids, which they would probably love,” Hanners said.
The conversation also shifted into before- and after-school child care.
Multiple people at the meeting said Whitefield Elementary is a good resource to tie in various ways to help people.
As the group of people sat in the school library, Deblois said the school facility is not really used after about 4 p.m.
The principal said he has been part of a school district that had an affordable after-school program where students stayed at the facility after the school day ended and a family-friendly organization watched over them.
“I’ve always felt it’s a shame, at every school I’ve ever been in, that the facility doesn’t get used enough by kids or adults,” Deblois said.
Tony Marple, former chair of the Whitefield Board of Selectmen, agreed, saying this “would be a good way of reinvigorating the relationship of the town as a whole with the school.”
Some of the other unmet needs the attendees identified included transportation for senior citizens and getting the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Waldoboro to do programs.
Another meeting after the one in October was not scheduled; however, the group expects to choose a regular time to meet.
To attend an upcoming meeting or get involved, contact the town office or email Hanners at firstname.lastname@example.org.