‘Mobilize Katahdin’ looks to support region during COVID-19 crisis

HOULTON, Maine  — When the Millinocket Memorial Library received a grant from the Portland-based John T. Gorman Foundation, it was destined to help establish new transportation services for the towns around the Mt. Katahdin area that traverses Penobscot and Aroostook counties.

But with the advent of COVID-19, the grant has led to a different kind of mobilization — one that brings together organizations and local leaders of the community to provide mutual assistance and to connect residents to resources and information to help combat the pandemic. 

“We’ve done some fundraising efforts [where] the funds that come in are used to purchase grocery and gasoline gift cards,” Shelly Blaisdell, the resources navigator for Mobilize Katahdin, said. Blaisdell was hired only two days before Gov. Janet Mills ordered that all businesses and dine-in restaurants close and prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people as part of the civil state of emergency she declared in response to the spreading coronavirus.

 “We offer heating fuel assistance, and we can do some copays for medicine,” Blaisdell said.

In addition, the coalition volunteer base of around 50 people also helps with grocery shopping and delivering groceries and medicine to people’s homes. It contains members of town councils, schools, agencies that aid the aging, as well as other local organizations such as Our Katahdin and THRIVE Penobscot. 

“I think one of the big things we’re trying to do with this effort is to consolidate and bring together stories and data about what the scope and scale of the transportation challenge is and use that data to advocate for either funding or more transportation options,” said Matt DeLaney, the director of Millinocket Memorial Library, who helped procure the original grant. 

Mobillize Katahdin serves the Penobscot County towns of Millinocket, East Millinocket, Medway and Woodville, as well as the Aroostook County towns of Sherman, Patten, Benedicta, Mount Chase and Island Falls. The area has seen some local cases of the novel coronavirus, particularly on the Penobscot side, with cases reported in Medway and a death from the virus occurring in East Millinocket. 

Blaisdell hopes Mobilize Katahdin’s efforts to support the community will continue, even after the virus becomes a thing of the past, she said. 

The transportation services that the grant was originally meant for has not been able to take full effect, due to social distancing guidelines, but Blaisdell said that they would be implemented “as soon as we are allowed to.”

“It’s not just a COVID-19 response,” she said. “Mobilize Katahdin is an ongoing service that will continue as long as we are able.”

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