People help unpack an extra load of USDA food boxes Friday, Nov. 20 to distribute to people in Belfast. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

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Jen and Bob Montgomery-Rice are co-chairs of the 2020 United Way of Eastern Maine campaign. Jen is a former teacher and business owner. Bob is the CEO of Bangor Savings Bank.

Giving back has never been more important to our community than during this pandemic and there are plenty of options to pledge your support.

As long-time contributors and volunteers for the United Way of Eastern Maine (UWEM), we ask you to consider making your gift local. We are proud to serve as co-chairs of the 2020 UWEM campaign, particularly during this difficult time, culminating years of service to the community in various capacities.

We have both served on the UWEM board, Bob previously, and Jen currently. Jen’s lifelong work as a teacher and business owner, plus her experience growing up in Waldo County, in addition to her volunteer work with Literacy Volunteers of Bangor and the Bangor YMCA, has enabled her to see first-hand how funding can change lives and support crucial organizations. Bob’s CEO position at Bangor Savings Bank has given him a window into the lives of many people in the Eastern Maine area, and his bank’s leadership on United Way donations comes from a culture of giving back and caring about the community.

For 83 years, the United Way has sought to improve the lives of people in Eastern Maine by mobilizing the caring power of people and communities. Prioritized funding needs in our region are: 1) basic needs, including food insecurity, housing, and job readiness; 2) substance use disorder and recovery support; and 3) early childhood development.

Contributions from our caring community make it possible for the United Way of Eastern Maine to fund 29 programs focused on these needs. This existing structure allowed UWEM the unique position to respond to increased need created by COVID-19. UWEM created a Covid Relief Fund in March, and led the effort of a statewide telethon supported by Bangor Savings and NEWSCENTER Maine that raised more than $600,000 from generous people and businesses. Those funds enabled agencies impacted by the pandemic to pivot and meet increased need. For example, food kitchens set up to feed visitors were now able to create to-go meals, internet access was improved for students, and more. Locally UWEM was able to leverage telethon proceeds along with donations from individuals and businesses to help more than 28,929 people in Eastern Maine through the pandemic.

Those needs continue to grow. In June the Northwestern Institute for Policy Research found that food insecurity had doubled overall and tripled among households with children during the pandemic. Feeding America projects Penobscot County food insecurity to increase from 14.3 percent in 2018 to 17.4 percent in 2020. Piscataquis County will increase from 17.5 percent to 20.4 percent and Washington County from 16.3 percent to 19.4 percent. Civilian unemployment in Maine increased from 22,000 people in February, to 104,000 in April and stood at 55,000 in October.

The pandemic is also impacting substance use disorder. In October the Maine Office of the Attorney General reported that 132 Maine people have died from drug overdoses in the second quarter of 2020, representing a 4 percent increase over the first quarter of 2020. In total, 258 Maine people have died from drug overdoses through the first six months of 2020, representing a 27 percent increase over the last two quarters of 2019.

It is early to quantify the impact the pandemic has put on the quality of our education but the eye test tells us teachers, parents and kids are stressed by the variable schedules, childcare and access to technology. Likely, less time in the classroom is leading to a more challenging learning experience, and less access to school-provided nutrition for those who need it.

With these challenges in mind, if you need help, dial 211 or visit The confidential informational service available at 211 is made possible by the state of Maine and United Ways in Maine.

We know Mainers always rise to the challenge when our neighbors need help. Can you volunteer, advocate or make a gift? Can you give more than you gave before? These are challenging times for all of us, but incredibly challenging for many. We trust and value what the United Way has done for years and invite you to join us. Please do what you can to help those in need this year.