Communities in Washington and Hancock counties were among those that rallied together to send aid to people in Texas working to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey.
Some area residents have close ties to Texans who were affected by the massive storm. "We had some family be in the direct path of hurricanes before, but this has been epic," stresses Heather Patton of Calais, who had 43 relatives and "countless friends" who were affected by Harvey's winds and relentless rain. "Even though they let me know where they were going, I felt a sense of helplessness in not being able to help," she points out. "My cousin Wade was directly responsible for 17 people in his four-bedroom home. He had kids and their spouses and grandkids plus dogs, birds and cats." Patton was still waiting to hear from her friend Janelle, whose home and business were only two miles from where the hurricane made landfall.
Patton's sister Faith works with a no-kill shelter, Austin Pets Alive, which took in 560 animals in 36 hours, and more animals continued to pour in as evacuating owners were forced to surrender their animals because motels wouldn't accept people with pets. Help began coming in from neighboring counties, as people dropped off crates, dog food, blankets, pizza and sandwiches. Patton adds, "There was just an outpouring of love, compassion and giving."
Patton's relatives include members of the "Cajun Navy," who poured in by boat to rescue Hurricane Harvey victims trapped in the high water, but the rescuers had difficulties of their own.
Patton explains, "I know they were running out of gas. It is getting so scarce I know that people are getting up at 2 a.m. to fill up every container they have with gas."
Downeast responds in time of need
Back in Maine, a volunteer driver from Hancock set out for Texas on September 6, hauling a truck full of donated items from all over Washington and Hancock counties for flood victims in Texas.
"This all started with Lorena Caler posting to Lupe Soto's Facebook page 'What's Happening Washington County, Maine,'" says tired but happy organizer Bonita Jones of Pembroke. "She said that she would like to help the flood victims in Houston, Texas, but she did not have a truck or any way to get it there."
Jones plunged into the task of trying to find a truck and a driver, but, even with assistance from the nonprofit New to You thrift shop in Eastport, which also donated items to send to Texas, she had not met with much success. However, Caler's brother Fred Ashmore, who owns an automotive business in Hancock, volunteered to drive.
In the meantime, Jones had talked with her friends Theresa and Chris Peek of House, Texas, who were right in the middle of the destruction and were able to explain what was really needed. The Facebook page, "Downeast Maine Helping Flood Victims in Texas" was created, and "We just started posting like crazy about what we are trying to do, and we got so many people wanting to help from everywhere!" reports Jones.
The Pembroke American Legion let Jones park a vehicle with the sign "Fill this truck" on Front Street on August 25 and 26 for donations. As word of the effort spread, the Lubec Town Office, Campobello Island and McFadden's Store began collecting items as well.
Everything donated from the New to You thrift shop was dropped off in Carol Davenport's barn in Pembroke, and Ann Cornelison of Eastport allowed the group to use her building, the former movie theater in Pembroke. "I discovered that making our Facebook group had gotten us all of the communication and volunteers needed," says Jones. The Facebook page was a great way for organizers to connect with so many communities in both Washington and Hancock counties, along with Campobello. There appears to have not been a town or city in Washington County that didn't contribute to the effort to fill the truck.
In Lubec, Downeast EMS loaded supplies for the Hurricane Harvey relief operations on September 4. Collection efforts began with the town office and were continued through the holiday weekend by emergency workers, prompted by Gary Rhoades and Reggie Ellingwood. Lubec residents contributed three truckloads and nearly $400 towards the multi‑town effort.
"Thank you to everyone collecting and manning those drop off places to help get these items to Texas, including Julie Keene and Carol Dennison and the Lubec Fire Department," says a grateful Jones. "Ryan Maluski Malagara with IT‑LLC the Video game, UPS, the eBay store in Machias, Amanda Quinn, DD, in Machias, manager Nathan Moffett and the Dollar General, especially everyone who took the time to make sure that their donations made it to the drop off places -- without you, we couldn't have filled this truck!"
In addition, the Calais American Legion, with Cabin Fever Embroidery, is selling "Project Legion" T-shirts and donating the profits from at least 25 of those shirts to the American Legion in Texas in support of Harvey recovery efforts. "We are also soliciting all of the American Legion posts in Maine to match us or beat us," reports Mike McLean, commander of the Calais American Legion.
The Calais Legionnaires will also be selling T-shirts at a later date to support the local post, but McLean says, "Our first priority is to show our support to the families in Texas and Louisiana. Any and all donations will be greatly appreciated." For more information, call 214-4410.