It is that time of year again when food and gift drives are on every street corner for the holiday season. In keeping with the holiday spirit, the Student Education Association of Maine (SEAM) at the University of Maine has organized its first food drive for the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter this season.
Tabatha Goodale, a third-year elementary education student at UMaine, is president of SEAM and organizer of the food drive.
“One of the main goals of SEAM is community involvement and reaching out to our community in different ways. We figured this would be a great way to get our students involved and help out around the holiday season,” Goodale said.
As Goodale explained, SEAM has three main goals: community involvement, professional involvement and networking for future teachers. SEAM is open to any education student at the university, and is under the larger Maine Education Association (MEA), of which most teachers are a part.
“It is kind of a way for them to reach out to future educators and people that are going to be a part of MEA someday,” Goodale explained of SEAM.
Goodale mainly relied on a wishlist the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter has posted on their website to figure out what items they want donated. In addition to collecting canned and non-perishable food items, the drive is also for hygiene products such as soap, razors and shampoo.
So, why are future teachers so interested in community service?
“Students facing these issues will affect the way the classroom runs,” Goodale said. “Teachers should be able to adapt to these challenges and still give their students the best education they can.”
Goodale added that in addition to simply donating to a food drive, the shelter is a great place to volunteer. She also emphasized anyone can drop off items directly at the shelter without going through an organized food drive.
Christina Berube has been an administrative assistant at the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter for a year and a half. She graduated from UMaine with a degree in political science.
Berube explained that the shelter relies completely on donations for their food, which is why food drives like this one are so essential for the shelter to continue to run.
The shelter is not only a place for the homeless to get food. The shelter runs a food pantry open to the public, which also subsists off of donated items. It is open two days a week and is open to anyone in need of food assistance. The pantry serves an average of 160 families each month. The busiest month this year so far was September, when about 550 people came in looking for food.
Berube explained that people come in trends.
“A lot of it has to do with the weather, if people are able to get out and get food.”
The shelter is a 38-bed facility. With the harsh winter last year, the shelter was full every night for two or three months straight.
The Bangor Area Homeless Shelter also works to place homeless individuals into housing when possible. In 2014, they placed 118 individuals into permanent housing, and overall had 482 overnight “clients,” the preferred term used when referring to those who need shelter.
The shelter only accepts adults ages 18 and over. Clients must also be clean from drugs and alcohol, as the shelter is dry.
“It is tough because we get a lot of phone calls from people with children,” Berube explained.
The closest children’s shelter is in Ellsworth, but there is a young adult shelter in Bangor called the Shaw House.
Berube also emphasized that items such as clothing and socks are often overlooked, but necessary.
“So many people come to see us with nothing. Being able to give them fresh clothes is a good feeling from them,” Berube said.
If the facility is full, the shelter will make up “hygiene bags” full of essential hygiene items to give to those who may be sleeping on the street.
UMaine students like those in SEAM have been very involved with helping the shelter. Berube explained she frequently gets calls from fraternities and sororities, among other groups, looking for service opportunities.
“We had a couple volunteers from the university last year that would deliver food right from Hilltop and York commons,” Berube said.
The students delivered things such as fresh salads and sandwich supplies, which the shelter is typically lacking.
Berube also encouraged UMaine students to attend the shelter’s annual Hike for the Homeless, which happens every April.
There are four starting points, in Bangor, Brewer, Hermon and Hampden, and participants walk from their starting points to the Bangor waterfront with the goal of raising awareness of the homeless people who have to walk these distances every day in every kind of weather.
“Sometimes it is snowy, a little cold, all you have is a backpack. I think it is a good way for people to put themselves into the shoes of somebody that needs to walk to where they need to be,” Berube said.