Letter from Aroostook: Aroostook strong

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Over the past few weeks, I spent a lot of time running to events.

I made a stop in Fort Kent at vet check of the dogs running the Can-Am; an early and chilly morning at the Anah Shrine in Presque Isle with 100 snow sledders (one from Cape Elizabeth) who came all the way north for the American Cancer Society sled run, and a quick jaunt to Saint Agatha to lay eyes on pond hockey. I planned to do a round-up of all the things happening here.

Then COVID-19 took center stage.  

Aroostook is the northernmost county in the state and has a population of about 67,000 people, spread across more than 6,800 square miles. Nearly 40 percent of the population is older than 45 – the most-at-risk age – and based on the advice of state and federal officials, we are all hunkering down.  

Aroostook is also at the end of the supply chain, with only three hospitals spread over the largest county in the state. Schools have closed, with students working at home from packets put together by the teachers. Restaurants and bars have closed, and large events and any number of other activities have been canceled. Like anywhere else, grocery store shelves are empty, offices and services are closing, and people are staying home.

But that doesn’t mean people are not connecting. 

Volunteers and bus drivers are out every weekday delivering breakfast and lunch packages to school children in need; neighbors and friends check on each other more regularly, usually by phone, because there are still several feet of snow on the ground. But there’s a new Facebook page – Covid 19 Aroostook, the brainstorm of Isaac Nelson who owns Baird Farms and is the chief financial officer at Aroostook Trusses – that makes it easier for people to connect,   

The idea for connecting people came to Nelson after seeing numerous posts from people looking for the necessities of life after simple items like toilet paper and wet wipes began disappearing from the shelves of local stores and supermarkets. 

 

Isaac Nelson

“People were panicking,” Nelson said, “and I realized that they were not connected with the right sources. True needs can always be met.” 

Partnering with Robby Desjardins with whom he had worked before, the page was launched, and by last Thursday it had more than 7,600 members.

“It went viral,” Nelson said. “No pun intended.”

People began sharing both what they needed and what they could offer to others. Now, as Nelson noted, the offerings of help have exceeded the needs.

“What really got me,” he said, “was a nursing mother offering to nurse the baby of another woman who couldn’t find formula. That’s amazing that someone would offer to share nutrition with someone else’s baby. That’s the best of human nature.” 

While Nelson and Desjardins are the primary moderators, a team of other people keep the page focused just on needs, offers of help, and local cancellations. 

“We can’t read every post,” he said. “But 90 percent of the posts are positive, and we don’t allow those that aren’t.” 

Nelson said he was confident in how many amazing people live in The County. 

Robby Desjardins

“Generally, we’ve had good feedback,” he said. “People appreciate the positivity when the rest of the world is so negative. We’ve got really good people up here, and as isolated as we are, all we have to depend on is each other.”

It’s a reassuring thought when there is so much fear and finger-pointing around.  

So, if you’re looking for potatoes or baby wipes or a store that will deliver groceries to a senior citizen, or information, or just to know that someone else is as concerned as you are, this may be the page that will brighten your day and give you new hope for the kindness of people. 

“We’re going to leave it up as long as it’s needed,” Nelson said. “People should be looking forward to when this is over, and then we should all get together and have a huge party to celebrate.”  

Jan Grieco is a retired college instructor and former reporter for The Forecaster. She lives in Perham, where she farms and lives off the land.