GRAY – For the past three years, Gray resident Christina Foster has served as the coordinator for Caring Community of Gray-New Gloucester, a 10-person volunteer organization that provides gifts and meals for struggling families every Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Foster, who works as a development coordinator for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, has volunteered for Caring Community for the last six years. She said that the program has become more popular through word of mouth, as well as because more and more residents of Gray and New Gloucester are struggling to make ends meet.

The Lakes Region Weekly spoke with Foster about her experiences coordinating the program, as well as the courage required to ask for assistance, as she put it.

Q: In your time with Caring Community of Gray-New Gloucester, have you seen changes in the community in terms of how many people are requesting this type of assistance?

A: Oh, definitely. When Caring Community was started seven years ago, there were 50 families total that we helped for Thanksgiving and for Christmas. In 2012, there were 127 families that we helped for Christmas, and 74 families that we helped for Thanksgiving. This year, we’ve seen an increase to 210 families for Christmas, and 105 families for Thanksgiving. We’re definitely seeing an increase, and I know a lot of that has to do with the community’s awareness of our organization, but I think, too, that there’s a lot of people falling on harder times and really mustering up the courage to even ask for help.

Q: What do you mean by “mustering up the courage”?

A: I think it takes a great deal of courage for somebody who is struggling to ask for help, especially in a community as small as ours. A lot of us know each other, and so I think that somebody asking for help, it’s got to be difficult for most people, just because there’s a lot of people that don’t want to have other people know that they’re struggling and that maybe they’re feeling embarrassed and they don’t want other people to know that that’s what’s happening in their family. So I do think that it takes a great deal of courage for these families to come forward and say, ‘We do need the help.’ And we’re such a small organization, and we’re a small organization for a reason, because we are a small community, that we keep it very, very confidential.

Q: When you’re talking about struggling, are you talking about people that are unable to feed themselves and their families three times a day?

A: Absolutely. As we’re talking to these families, we really get a sense of, they don’t have food. They don’t have oil to heat their home for this winter. There have been several families who have said they couldn’t even get a Christmas tree, and this year we were lucky enough to have had about 15 Christmas trees donated to us. So there is definitely an increased need. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just revolve around Thanksgiving and Christmas, but that’s all that we can help with. This is an all-year situation in our community, but we’re just able to help with Thanksgiving and Christmas for right now.

Q: Do you talk to these people about what’s happening to the country, why they’re struggling so much? What’s their take on the future?

A: I have not gotten into conversations like that, necessarily. It’s been more of, “My husband lost his job,” or, “Our refrigerator and our washing machine and our dryer just died at the same time,” or we have families that are homeless, that are just trying to struggle to make it through every single day. So we have not had those conversations necessarily about their long-term situation, or the country’s situation.

Q: How is your organization funded?

A: We rely strongly on sponsors. We send out a request to people who have sponsored in the past for Thanksgiving. A sponsor will take on a family and provide them with a meal. For Christmas, same thing. They’ll take on a family and provide them with the gifts and a meal. At the end we always have unsponsored families. This year we had 70 that were un-sponsored. So we rely heavily on donations from the community. The last two years we’ve been lucky enough to be recipients of the Day of Giving. And they have raised in the last two years enough for us to be able to cover our unsponsored families, along with the donations that we receive from the community members, as well.

We also receive assistance through the middle school here in Gray-New Gloucester. They provide 20 baskets of food, along with a gift certificate, and they do that both for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our local Gray rec department provided us with 104 shoeboxes of items, and it could be toys or small items or stocking stuffers that we were able to distribute to families. We have many organizations that do toy drives, so that’s basically how we are able to help these families that are looking for assistance.

This is definitely a community-based program. We cannot do it without our community members, our civil groups, our schools and our sponsors. That’s a huge part of this organization.

A CLOSER LOOK

Caring Community of Gray-New Gloucester is an volunteer-led organization that offers Thanksgiving and Christmas assistance to local residents in need. Application forms are available through the school system, New Gloucester Town Office, New Gloucester Public Library, Gray Town Office and Gray Public Library. For more information, contact Donna Rand at 671-4458.

From left, Michelle Bourne, Christina Foster and Heather Farrington all volunteer with Caring Community of Gray-New Gloucester. The seven-year-old group will assist more than 200 families in their Christmas celebrations this year.  


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