The President of the University of Maine Student Government (UMSG) Bentley Simpson announced on March 14 through a Facebook post that the UMSG had donated more than 900 items of food to the Black Bear Exchange, UMaine’s student and faculty food pantry, in order to assist those who may be affected by COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.
As schools across the state turn towards online class formats, one major concern held by state officials and school administrators has been the supply of food and resources for students who deal with food insecurity who will no longer have access to school lunch programs and on-campus resources.
The University of Maine System made the decision on March 11 to switch to remote learning through the implementation of online classes in order to protect the health and safety of the UMaine community. The effort to donate supplies of food and hygiene products was organized by the UMSG in order to address the issue of food and resource insecurity on the UMaine campus and in the surrounding area.
The state of Maine has experienced a flurry of activity as many people prepare to self-quarantine. The shelves of local grocery stores have been bought out and price gouging has become a real threat to student’s well being. With many students being notified that their student worker position at the university will no longer be supported during the transition to online classes, UMSG noticed that during the pandemic many students will not be able to buy in bulk due to financially vulnerable situations.
This financial strain has caused many students to worry about whether they will be able to stay in the Orono area, and left many wondering how they will manage their finances in order to continue to put food on the table.
“This time of need is no different [than others]. As soon as UMaine announced changes, people started contacting me about how to help. People have offered to do food drives, volunteer, and help with whatever we need,” Lisa Morin, the coordinator of the Bodwell Center for Student Volunteerism, said. “Even the Islamic Center of Maine has done a food drive for the Black Bear Exchange. Our Administration has been incredibly supportive, as they always are. Luckily we have a relationship with the Good Shepherd Food Bank. That will help us to keep some food coming in.”
Morin noted that because of the food shortages caused by bulk buying, it warmed her heart to hear that the UMSG was looking to help.
“They are trying to find ways to still support their fellow Black Bears, and this was incredibly thoughtful on their part,” Morin said.
Simpson told the Maine Campus that the decision for the UMSG to donate the supplies was an easy one. Due to the university closing for an indefinite amount of time, the funds that were to be allocated toward spring events, such as the Maine Event concert, were made available. This meant that the UMSG had the opportunity to use the funds to help support the community in a time of need.
“In total, we dropped off 933 pounds of food and hygiene products. Does this feel like a parting present? Not in the slightest,” Bentley said. “There is still so much work to be done for these students and the UMSG executive team has been meeting every day since we heard about the in-class school cancelation.”
Roger Holt, a third-year computer engineering student, noted in a Facebook post that the UMaine community saw this act as heroic.
Morin has been working to secure opportunities for UMaine students who are interested in helping out the Orono community in this time of need. The UMSG, along with other UMaine student organizations including the Senior Skulls and All Maine Women, reached out to Morin to find out ways that they could assist with the needs of K-12 students in their community due to school closures.
Currently, Morin noted that the most needed service is childcare, as many parents are unable to stay home to take care of children that no longer have in-person classes. To find out more about opportunities to help the Orono community, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow the UMSG Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/umsginc/.