As new asylum seekers began to arrive in Portland in the last week from central Africa by way of Mexico, a variety of social service and other agencies immediately took up the charge to provide services as quickly as possible.
An emergency shelter was established at the Portland Exposition building, and Preble Street and Wayside provided food.
Dozens of already-settled immigrants even volunteered to cook and to translate, and on Friday, the University of Southern Maine said it would open one of its 200-bed dorms in Gorham to asylum seekers.
[As Portland surges with newcomers, here’s a look at the process of seeking asylum and why it’s different this time]
But Anna Bullett, director of the Cumberland County WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program at Opportunity Alliance, saw additional needs that weren’t being met. Bullett created an Amazon “list” of items in need, which allows donors to order the items on the website and have them shipped directly to Opportunity Alliance, which will distribute them directly to the families.
Bullett wrote that “at least 200 people — all families with small children and infants” — arrived this week in Portland from the country’s southern border.
A total of 170 asylum seekers arrived this week and hundreds more are expected, the Associated Press reported Sunday.
While the asylum-seekers are receiving meals and housing from organizations including Preble Street, WIC is working “to meet the immediate nutrition needs of the infants, pregnant people and toddlers in a developmentally appropriate and client-centered way,” she wrote on the page. “This is in addition to the 2800 pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding people and children ages 0-5 we serve on a daily basis, half of which are asylum-seeking.”
[Janet Mills says Portland won’t be alone in responding to influx of asylum seekers]
The list initially included diaper bags, bras designed for nursing mothers, breastmilk bottles, diaper ointment and child and baby nail care, comb and toothbrush kits.
But by Sunday afternoon, 20 of 30 requested diaper bags had been purchased, as well as 17 of 20 requested bras designed for breastfeeding mothers.
Over the weekend, Bullett added books to the wish list, including French and Portugese editions of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” several bilingual board books, and “Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children.”
The City of Portland set up a “text-to-donate” line for monetary donations (text EXPO to 91999). For more information and other ways to donate, click here. Those wishing to volunteer are being asked to first sign up here.