How Christmas Wishes Come True in Cherryfield 

How Christmas Wishes Come True in Cherryfield 

While kids are still sorting through their candy haul from Halloween, the Mission’s Downeast Campus is already ready for another holiday: Christmas. Weald Bethel Community Center becomes the DeFacto North Pole when the calendar flips to November, with the elves sorting and packaging presents that will go to recipients throughout Washington and Hancock Counties.

Weald Bethel set up for Christmas

In 2021, the Mission’s elves, led by Stephanie Moores, Community and Family Engagement Program Manager, distributed more than 7,000 presents to 1,264 people living in the Mission’s service area. Presents range from crossword puzzle books for older adults to toys and jackets for children.

The Mission’s Christmas Program began as a way to provide gifts to the children of lighthouse keepers on remote islands. The Mission still delivers presents to children and seniors on unbridged islands as well as up and down the coast to children, families, and seniors by partnering with childcare centers, nursing homes, and prisons to provide presents to those who might not have them. Families can also register for the Mission’s Christmas Program and come to the Downeast campus to shop for their own children.  

The elves serve two different purposes. First, they sort, pick, and wrap presents for individuals that cannot come to the Downeast Campus. For these presents, facilities—like a nursing home—send requests for recipients and the elves do their magic handpicking items that will fill those wish lists. Elders in nursing homes are gifted clothing, crossword puzzles, knitted blankets, toiletries as well as baby dolls and stuffed animals. Children in daycare centers receive small gifts and toys. Once items are picked, the elves then package and wrap each gift to send them to the recipients. 

The elves also help fulfill the requests of seniors and children living on the outer islands. Working directly with Douglas Cornman, Director of Island Outreach, they strategize what to give each islander served by the Christmas program. These presents are brought to the Sunbeam to make the trip to their island destination.  Finally, the elves also help families shop for presents for their children. Families who sign up for the program are given time slots to visit the “North Pole” where they select presents for their children. The room is set up with presents for all ages from babies to teens with toys, books, clothing, and toiletries set up for families to peruse. The elves offer suggestions, and when families are done their shopping, they help wrap them.   

Wrapping a present

For many of the elves, helping bring Christmas to families is a labor of love and something that they have done year after year.

We kindly ask gifts are mailed by Saturday, December 10 or dropped at the Mission before Friday, December 16 to make sure the elves have enough time to distribute them.

To learn more about the Christmas Program, or to enroll yourself or your family, please visit the Christmas Program web page.

Island Eldercare Providers Connect and Learn at Yearly Retreat

Island Eldercare Providers Connect and Learn at Yearly Retreat

Health care providers and residents of islands stretching from Cliff Island to Frenchboro walked through the door of the Southern Harbor House on North Haven, took off their shoes, grabbed a cup of tea and sat around a table to share their successes and struggles while learning from each other and experts in their field. The attendees, at this yearly retreat, are all part of the Mission’s Island Eldercare Network, which is a group that has come together to support island residents who wish to age in place. 

This group has been instrumental for many of the attendees, Cheryl Crowley, who lives on Cliff Island says, “Because of this network, the islands have each embellished their services to elders or created services that never existed. It’s the sharing of ideas and encouragement that we give to one another that have made these differences.” 

During the retreat they discuss issues that affect them and their residents, learn more from experts, and most importantly, network with others that understand the work they are doing. The group meets monthly on Zoom, but this time together in-person allows them to make deeper connections.  

Maura Michael, the Administrator of Islesboro’s Boardman Cottage says the retreat is “a chance for a group of us in the same business—eldercare—to meet and share experiences. We talk about what is working and not working and to share ideas with each other.” She adds, “Some of us learn new things and some of us ask for ideas and opinions on how to manage different situations.” 

This year’s retreat included talks by Judith Metcalf, Director of the University of New England Maine Geriatric Education Center, Maureen Giffin, a nurse who has worked directly with island communities, and Dr. Anand Viswanathan, Associate Director of Mass General Brigham Telestroke Program. In addition, attendees heard about changes in policy at the state level and engaged in discussions on fundraising and grants with the Mission’s Director of Advancement Erica Hutchinson. 

Metcalf discussed the 4Ms of the Age-Friendly Movement and how participants could implement them to help their neighbors age in place. Dr. Viswanathan, who works directly with the Mission’s Director of Island Health, Sharon Daley, and does remote neurological work, gave updates on Covid. He also talked about the importance of telehealth, which while newly adopted by many during the pandemic, has been a lifeline for many islanders who often must travel long distances to receive care. Also, a key part of this retreat is the time providers have to meet one-on-one to have their questions answered by representatives from the State of Maine. 

The day also gives the attendees time to regroup, discuss problems, get support, and learn from people who understand their situation. “The best part of the conference is when we get to share stories. Everyone has exceptional stories, some very emotional,” Michael says. “It also is a break away from the everyday and it is nice to know that everyone else has the same issues in eldercare. I come away very refreshed.” 

Keeping Islands Connected on Zoom

Keeping Islands Connected on Zoom

Every Friday morning at 9:30 a.m., Douglas Cornman, the Mission’s Director of Island Outreach and Chaplain, powers up his computer, turns on his video camera, and starts moving with students attending school on Maine’s outer islands on Zoom.  

The exercise classes that Douglas runs for the outer islands have a dual purpose. Not only do they get students moving but they also keep students on outer islands connected with their peers. With a small number of students on each island and learning in one- or two-room schoolhouses, classmates might be years and grades apart from each other. Students from five different island schools get together in-person a few times each year, but this exercise class, which started before the pandemic, gives kids an easy way to see each other while staying on the islands they call home.  

The class is not the only virtual island gathering Douglas facilitates. He also leads the Second Sunday with the Seacoast Mission on Zoom. The Second Sunday is a monthly interfaith gathering for island residents that grew out of weekly Zoom services Douglas started in the summer of 2020 when churches were closed. Douglas brings together islanders of different faith traditions and backgrounds and the Zooms feature everything from Tibetan chanting and breathwork to readings from the Bible and singing of hymns. The gatherings became a way for islanders to connect with each other, so when churches reopened, there was a request to continue to do services. Douglas now runs a monthly Zoom for islanders during the winter and early spring. 

A zoom screen capture from a Second Sunday with the Seacoast Mission
A screen capture from a Second Sunday with the Seacoast Mission

“The group grew to appreciate the time we spent together even though it was remote and not in-person, Douglas says. “Not only was the gathering island-centric, but it also allowed islanders the opportunity to meet residents from other islands. Summer residents, who feel the loss of connection to their island, stayed connected with island friends and neighbors.” Douglas spreads the word each month about the services on Facebook as well as through emails. He says that anyone with a tie to an island, including summer residents and those living on other outer islands, are invited to join.  

The Mission, the crew of the Sunbeam, and Douglas continue to be a lifeline to islanders. Facilitating connection between residents of different islands as well as to the mainland strengthens community and lessens the isolation many can feel. And while many of us have turned away from Zoom meetings and screens in favor of in-person gatherings, these virtual offerings still bring people together even with many miles and an ocean between them.  

Find out more about Island Outreach here.

Sign Up for the Mission’s Christmas Program

Sign Up for the Mission’s Christmas Program

Color Photo of Santa and Mrs Claus
Santa and Mrs. Claus delivering the Mission’s presents by boat!

A gift from the Seacoast Mission with its white parchment paper wrapping tied with red string has been a welcome addition under the tree for many Downeast families. Applications for the Mission’s Christmas Program, which provides presents to children under 18, are now open. If you would like to apply for the Christmas Program and receive gifts, please apply at the link here.  

The Christmas program serves residents of Addison, Bar Harbor, Beals Island, Cherryfield, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Deblois, Eagle Island, Frenchboro, Great Cranberry Island, Harrington, Isleboro, Isle au Haut, Islesford, Jonesboro, Jonesport, Matinicus, Milbridge, Monhegan, Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor, Steuben, Tremont, and Vinalhaven.

“The holidays can be a stressful time for many, we try to help ease that burden a little. We have streamlined the intake process this year to make signing up and shopping more efficient,” says Stephanie Moores, Community and Family Engagement Program Manager. 

Starting in late October, the Mission turns part of its Cherryfield campus into an “Elves’ Workshop” where elves, a.k.a. Mission volunteers, receive donated gift items, organize presents for shopping, and stage a gift-wrapping station for the Mission’s Christmas Program. Once a family’s application is approved, they are invited to either come shop in-person for gifts or they can send a list to the elves who will help them fulfill their list. In addition to toys, there is also clothing, toiletries, and more. Gifts can either be left unwrapped or wrapped in the Mission’s iconic white parchment paper tied with red string.  

The Sunbeam also makes a yearly journey to provide Christmas gifts to people living on unbridged islands. “Handing out Christmas presents is one of the many meaningful things I get to do for the Mission,” says Douglas Cornman, Mission’s Director of Island Outreach and Chaplain. “Not only do I witness the excitement on each child’s face as I hand them a gift (and often receive a huge hug in return), I have the privilege of listening to stories from parents, grandparents, and sometimes even great grandparents who also received gifts from the Mission and delivered by the Sunbeam. These gifts are the most poignant example of the Mission’s legacy on the outer islands.”  

Families can sign up to shop or receive gifts from the Christmas Program here or contact Community and Family Engagement Program Manager Stephanie Moores at [email protected] or (207) 546-5868.  

“The Island Reader” Goes to the Library of Congress

“The Island Reader” Goes to the Library of Congress

In 2006, a thinly bound, black and white collection of pages was stapled together, and copies were given out. Inside the cover, beautifully crafted poetry, stories, and artwork leapt off the page. What today looks strikingly similar to a ‘zine, The Island Reader began as an opportunity for artists on four of Maine’s unbridged islands to share their work. Over the years, The Island Reader evolved into a beautifully produced, perfect bound publication featuring the work of artists and writers from 16 unbridged islands. The Island Reader serves as a meditation on islanders and their creative spirits. 

As of this fall, all 16 editions are archived in the physical collection of the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov

Abby Yochelson, reference specialist for English and American Literature at the Library of Congress, shared, “I had just returned from a lovely vacation in Maine when I was asked about adding The Island Reader to our collections. I’ve always been impressed that Maine is one of those states where visual artists and writers seem to grow from the soil! Along with the Maine State Library, the Library of Congress is pleased to be a repository for these examples of creativity from a special corner of our country.”  

The Library of Congress’ archives contain millions of books, films and videos, audio recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps, and manuscripts in its collections. For any piece of American media to be preserved with this federal institution, the material must document American history and culture. Mission President, John Zavodny says, “This is a special moment for the Mission and the islanders who design and contribute to the journal. The poems, stories, words, images, drawings, and paintings of Maine islanders will be archived for years to come not only in The Island Reader, but also in this country’s most important cultural institution.” 

Douglas Cornman with a copy of the Island Reader

The Mission’s Director of Island Outreach, Douglas Cornman, one of The Island Reader’s editors, shares, “I am over-the-moon with excitement, and so full of gratitude, knowing that The Island Reader is now housed in the Library of Congress. I have always thought that The Island Reader is a sweet collection of island stories and experiences. Having it accepted into the Library of Congress’ collection confirms that my feelings are not simply biased, but truth.”   

In 2021, 69 artists and writers submitted work to be included in the 16th edition. Once the submission deadline closes each year, the publication’s editors—who are also islanders—create the layout aboard the Sunbeam. Printed in small print runs each year, the Mission receives requests from across the state and the U.S. Now The Island Reader has come to reside in Washington, D.C., too. 

The editors of The Island Reader are now accepting submissions for the 17th edition. Anyone who lives on one of Maine’s unbridged islands can submit their work by December 31, 2022. The theme of the edition is “Our Island Families.” For more information on how to submit poetry, prose or artwork, click here

To receive a printed copy of the publication, please complete the form here. A digital edition is available at the same link. To learn more about the Mission’s Island Outreach program to understand the depth of work Douglas does with islands and aboard the Sunbeam, click here

Need Fuels Visits to Mission’s Food Pantry

Need Fuels Visits to Mission’s Food Pantry

Beginning in October of 2021, Megan Smith, Food Security and Sustainability Programs Coordinator, started seeing familiar faces more often at the Mission’s food pantry. As everyday costs, such as home heating oil and rent continue to rise, many must adjust their budgets to make ends meet. This decreases the amount of money they can spend on other necessities, like food, and can present real challenges for many Downeast families.  

“Most of the general public thinks people utilizing pantry services are people in deep poverty, but that isn’t true in today’s economy. The average pantry recipient today is working—usually more than one job—and earns too much income to qualify for federal or state support programs,” explains Jenny Jones, the Mission’s Interim Downeast Director. “So, they turn to local organizations where income isn’t a barrier to services. More and more low- and middle-class households are needing the pantry.”  

Increased pantry use is something that has been seen at food pantries across the country. A study from the Urban Institute found that food insecurity has steadily increased since 2021 and Feeding America, which supports food banks across the country, found that 90% of food banks reported seeing increased or steady demand for their services amid record food price increases.

These increases are felt more acutely in places with high food insecurity levels and a little over 17% of Washington County’s residents are food insecure, according to statistics from Good Shepherd Food Bank. Washington County’s level of food insecurity was one of the highest in the state and much higher than the national level of around 10%. 

“As a low- to no-barrier pantry, we really work to let our community know they can come each week,” says Megan Smith, the Mission’s Food Security and Sustainability Programs Coordinator. “We want our pantry experience to feel as normal of a grocery experience as possible.”

The Mission’s pantry has fridges filled with fruit, vegetables, protein, and other perishable items, shelves with other staples including bread, pasta, canned goods, and a section of toiletry and baby items. If a community member cannot physically visit the pantry, they can request certain items that can be delivered. The Mission also partners with the Eastern Area Agency on Aging and the Good Shepherd Food Bank to offer commodities boxes to seniors once a month which include selection of fruit, juice, vegetables, milk, cheese, grains, and protein. 

Smith works to create a place where pantry customers feel welcome and comfortable. Through this, the pantry is a place where they can talk about their worries openly and share both their hopes and accomplishments. The connections Smith makes with customers allow her to support them in other ways including suggesting other services they might benefit from. 

To learn more or visit the pantry, please visit our Food Security program. The Mission welcomes volunteers who wish to assist in the pantry or make deliveries. 

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