The COVID-19 outbreak has caused the University of Maine campus to nearly shut down, forcing the majority of students to move out of their residence halls, lose their access to the dining halls and has caused challenges for on-campus student employees who can no longer work. Additionally, many individuals in the Orono community are practicing self-isolation at home and aren’t able to go to grocery stores at this time. Many others aren’t finding the items they need at those grocery stores due to their limited supplies.
UMaine’s Black Bear Exchange, an extension of the Bodwell Center for Student Volunteerism, recognizes the troubles that the community may be facing and has transformed their food pantry into a to-go food pantry in order to continue their services during the pandemic. The Black Bear Exchange food pantry only requires a valid MaineCard for their services. There is no income requirement.
According to the organization’s website, UMaine community members can now order items online, schedule a 15-minute pick-up appointment and then utilize a drive-through to collect their items.
The Black Bear Exchange staff has stated that they wear gloves while putting together and delivering orders and that they created the drive-through for food pick-ups to practice social distancing.
During this time, approximately 75 students and community members have used this service since it was made available.
“[The issue of] food insecurity has been and will continue to be very important to the UMaine community. Our Black Bear Exchange program has been very successful because of the number of groups, departments, organizations and individuals that are committed to help,” Lisa Morin, the coordinator of the Bodwell Center for Service and Volunteerism, said.
The Black Bear Exchange’s partnership with the Good Shepherd Food Bank helps to provide food to a number of individuals throughout the year. Additionally, a number of on-campus organizations and community groups have come together during the pandemic to donate to the Black Bear Exchange. Many have decided to conduct food drives, or simply volunteer their hands during these times.
Other on-campus organizations are contributing their services and supplies to alleviate hunger in the northeast region. UMaine’s Honors College Student Advisory Board holds an annual “Maine Day Meal Packout” on Maine Day. The group raised nearly $25,000 for this year’s event, but decided to cancel the event because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
However, the Honors College Student Advisory Board stated on their Facebook page that they are “committed to helping alleviate hunger in our community and our region. As a result, we have extended our partnership with Outreach New England and donated 10,000 meals to be distributed to food banks in and around Maine. These meals will be packed by small groups of volunteers and provide some much-needed relief to New Englanders who are struggling during this time.”
The group also stated that they will continue to work with campus and community partners to pack meals during the fall semester and prepare for next year’s Maine Day Meal Packout.
For more information about the Black Bear Exchange’s To-Go Food Pantry, visit umaine.edu/volunteer/bbe/bbtg/. For more information about hunger in Maine or to find out how you can support local food banks visit www.gsfb.org/mainecovid/.
If a member of the UMaine community wants to utilize the Black Bear Exchange’s to-go services during this time but is required to isolate, the organization can and will make accommodations to help the community, according to their website. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to do so.