As of 11 a.m. Monday, March 16, eight Maine residents have been confirmed positive and nine others are presumed positive for the coronavirus, according to the state. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.
Mr. Rogers, the famously compassionate children’s television host, used to tell his audience that when things got scary, they should “look for the helpers.”
As Maine contends with the escalating coronavirus outbreak, one thing is for certain: there is no shortage of helpers here. From a couple of schoolchildren in Waldo County who are sending cards to nursing home residents to a small chain of grocery stores in southwestern Maine that is opening up early so seniors can shop more securely, they seem to be emerging everywhere. Here are some of their stories.
Yoga for free — and from a distance
Brooke Plourde Dupuy, a Bangor parent, educator and yoga teacher, had been teaching an adult education yoga class in Orono and planned to volunteer at a different local school each month to teach yoga to stressed-out teachers. The coronavirus outbreak put a halt to all of that. But the need for yoga, she figured, was only growing as the days ticked on.
So she decided to use her skills to offer yoga classes to kids and adults through Facebook Live video stream. The first kids’ class will be held at 3 p.m. Tuesday, March 17, with an adult class held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 18. The free, streamed sessions can be accessed through the Facebook page for her business, Om Naturel. As well, she hopes, it will be a way to stay connected to people during a time of social distancing.
“I was thinking about the anxiety that a lot of kids probably have right now — they’re seeing their parents being stressed out, even if we try to keep a lot from them,” she said Monday. “They’re probably absorbing more than we think.”
Dupuy first became interested in yoga because of the way it can help with anxiety and stress, and its spiritual and emotional power.
“It’s not so much about the exercise. I’m all about teaching coping skills and breathing exercises and grounding,” she said. “I just think that’s super necessary right now, both for kids and adults.”
Sending cards to strangers
In Swanville, Nico Vaillancourt, 10, and his sister, Skyler, 7, have suddenly found themselves with more time on their hands — a lot of it. School in their district has been canceled until after April vacation, nearly six weeks away. And when their mother, Jes Vaillancourt, heard how nursing home residents were no longer being allowed to have visitors because of the virus, she thought of an idea she had seen on social media that might work out for both her kids and some of the residents of those institutions.
The concept was simple, and kind. People who love getting visitors, and could no longer have them, might like to get cards in the mail. So Jes Vaillancourt asked on Facebook for addresses of people who would like to get mail, received a bunch, and her kids got to work. On Monday, they were busy writing cards and making drawings for people they don’t know — but who they hope will enjoy them. Her daughter even wrote and illustrated a little book called “Dragon Finds a Cat.” They’re sending them to people who live in nursing homes in Maine and New Hampshire.
“That’s being sent to a lot of addresses this week,” Vaillancourt said. “They’re staying busy and doing something productive, which they’re enjoying.”
She’s hoping that some of the recipients may write back to her kids, creating a small moment of connection and camaraderie in an anxious time.
“It’s been a lot of negative lately,” she said, adding that she’s glad her kids are doing something to share kindness instead. “I think this will be a good lesson to people in the power of sticking together and being positive, to boost the whole community. We’re all in this scary situation together.”
A safer hour to shop for senior citizens
Meanwhile, in southwestern Maine, the employees who own and operate the Food City chain of supermarkets were asking what they could do to help. They knew that senior citizens are considered to be the most vulnerable to complications from the new coronavirus. Some had seen requests on social media for grocery stores to offer seniors a specific time they could shop in the early morning, when stores have been freshly disinfected and when they are the least crowded.
So that’s what they’re going to do, according to Jerry Favreau, the store manager for the Lisbon Falls Food City and the district manager for the five Maine Food City locations.
“What we’re really trying to do is help the local community, trying to give them a time that felt safe for them to come in,” he said. “If it goes well and is well received, we’ll keep doing it, as long as there’s a need for it.”
Seniors 60 and over are invited to do their shopping from 6 to 7 a.m. Wednesday, March 18 at the Food City stores in Livermore Falls, Turner and Bridgton, and from 7 to 8 a.m. Wednesday at the store in Wilton. The Livermore store will offer the special shopping time from 6 to 7 a.m. on Tuesday, March 17.
“Hopefully if we do it, other stores will pick up on it and do it, too,” Favreau said. “If we’re all doing it, hopefully that will take the burden off.”
A Brownie delivering cookies — and care
Then there is Veronica George, a 9-year-old Brownie with Troop 598 in Portland who learned more about her neighborhood — and what it means to be part of a community — over the weekend as she delivered a final batch of Girl Scout cookies. George and her mother, Brenda Zollitsch, knew that some of their neighbors were older women who live alone, and they figured they would make a care package to go along with the cookies. They included toilet paper and soap.
“In case they didn’t have that stuff,” George said.
“Or didn’t have people that could help them,” her mother added. “We thought that would be a nice gesture, to give them a little thing if they needed it, and ask them if they needed anything else.”
All the neighbors appreciated the care package, but one woman also seemed relieved. She didn’t have family living close, and her adult daughters were worried about her, she told George and Zollitsch, who gave her their number.
“She was so, so happy,” George said. “Now she has someone to call.”