Mufalo Chitam, Executive Director of Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, picking up shipment of 10,000 masks at UPS on Marginal Way in Portland

Maine’s total statewide COVID-19 confirmed positive case rate of 4,713 remains third lowest among the 50 states, according to the U.S. CDC, however the mostly rural state is definitely not out of the woods yet. Outbreaks continue – with the most recent caused by an indoor wedding in Millinocket, northern Penobscot County, officiated by a pastor from southern Maine – and the state still has the shameful distinction of leading the nation in terms of the disproportionate impact of the virus on communities of color. In Maine, 22% of total cases and 3% of deaths have been among Black or African American people, who comprise only 1.7% of the total population.

Beatrice Balou gives masks to Ahmed in front of Medina Market

Papy Bongibo and Pastor Gustave Toko of Kimbanguist Church

A coalition of immigrant-led community associations and organizations is working in the Greater Portland area, as well as in Lewiston/Auburn, to supply free masks and hand sanitizer to immigrant-owned markets, houses of worship that are frequented by immigrants, and individuals in an effort to reach all New Mainers, and share infection control messaging while providing protective equipment. The Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (MIRC) is spearheading much of the effort in the Greater Portland area, as well as Lewiston/Auburn, with support from donors, including a gift of 10,000 tri-layer polypropylene masks from the Network for Emergencies and Relief (NEAR), a not-for-profit organization based in New York. MIRC’s connection to NEAR was through retired cardiologist Dervilla McCann, who used to work in the Lewiston/Auburn area, and who heard about the need among New Mainer communities through a friend. McCann contacted Mufalo Chitam, Executive Director of MIRC, and on July 17, Chitam picked up the first masks in Portland.

Leaders of immigrant associations are handling distribution of the masks and hand sanitizer. Community associations involved include Angolan Community, Burundi Community, Cambodian Association, Congolese Association, Congolese Brazzaville Community, In Her Presence, Mano en Mano, Presente Maine, Rwandese Community Association, and South Sudanese Community. Also in Lewiston/Auburn, the New Mainers Public Health Initiative, together with other members of the L/A Task Force, organized a week of action between July 20-25 that included the distribution of free masks, hand sanitizer, and COVID testing. The same group will distribute masks again in September.