By Raymond P. Diamond
“[Our] basic mission is rallying the community to get involved where they can, so that we can help as many people as we can across Maine meet their basic material needs.”
– Tara Balch, Maine Needs
On a chilly day in late November, Amjambo Africa staff visited 332 Forest Avenue in Portland, the home of the organization Maine Needs. The nonprofit originally moved into the space in October 2020, and within a year had doubled their square footage in response to demand. The goal of the organization is to assist all Mainers to meet their basic material needs, especially those not provided by other social service providers.
Maine Needs founder Angela Stone was originally inspired by widespread media coverage of children being separated from their families at the southern border of the U.S., according to Communications Director Tara Balch. At the time, Stone was the mother of two children, and a third has arrived since then. She wanted to do what she could to better the lives of those impacted by circumstances similar to those of the families at the border. She decided to mobilize local communities within Maine to help, and before long, Maine Needs was born.
Originally founded in 2019 as a Facebook group, the organization now has its own physical space. Maine Needs maintains its original Facebook page, which is where Mainers find out what donations are needed at any given time, and how to donate.
When Maine Needs was founded in pre-COVID 2019, Stone realized that while many residents had unmet, basic material needs, many others had possessions to spare. She thought those in a position to give seemed not to know where to put their resources and donations.
“Folks who have an abundance sometimes just don’t know how they can help,” Balch said.
So Stone made the rounds of local nonprofit service providers and asked, “What is missing?” She was told that people lacked everyday supplies – things like toilet paper or new clothes for growing children. Other community service providers focused on higher needs like providing safe and affordable housing, accessible medical care, food security, and more. Maine Needs organizers listened to the providers and decided to focus on the basics.
The majority of Maine Needs’ funding comes from community member donations and small, local business donations. Grants provide some funding, but the bulk of the resources comes from surrounding, supportive communities.
Case workers, school social workers, nurses, and those in similar service professions collaborate with Maine Needs. They submit requests based on their client’s needs, and Maine Needs fulfills their requests if they can, depending on what has been donated by the community. If Maine Needs does not have something in stock, it passes the requests on to the community at large, often through the Maine Needs Facebook site. “It’s pretty simple,” Balch said.
Maine Needs volunteers deliver goods not only to clients but also to other organizations. The majority of those receiving Maine Needs services are in southern Maine, but volunteers have traveled as far as Presque Isle to deliver donations.
Over time, the organization’s infrastructure has grown. Maine Needs now has hundreds of volunteers, with approximately 150 actively engaged each week. Ten to 15 volunteers work on site, filling 3-hour shifts over each eight hour period. Balch and Chief Operations Officer Kaleigh Anderson are employees.
Through Facebook, Instagram, and their own website, Maine Needs is constantly looking for creative ways to foster engagement with even more community members and organizations. Local businesses are encouraged to host events like general donation drives, or targeted donations such as sneaker drives. In the past, Maine Needs has received bulk donations from ChappyWrap, a New England blanket business, and American Roots, located in Westbrook, which donated sweatshirts. Most recently, Maine-based Lamey Wellehan Shoes hosted a donation drive in South Portland on November 30 for kids’ boots.
Maine Needs is open six days a week, and volunteering is an option for all ages and walks of life. Signing up to volunteer is easy to do through their website: www.maineneeds.org.