An upstander is a person “who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause…who recognizes when something is wrong and acts to make it right….being socially responsible.”

Let’s start with the hard stuff. While debates in Brunswick ensue about the need and location for a new and expanded homeless shelter with comprehensive services, real-time crises continue to catapult individuals and families from housing to homelessness. The shelter for single adults on Cumberland St. is always filled to capacity with daily calls from many more seeking shelter. The same holds true for all of eight of the properties managed by Tedford Housing. People served include adults, teenagers, families and elders experiencing one of life’s most stressful events.

The social safety net in Brunswick is strong but must be responsive to ever changing needs.

The good news is that there are many among us who have been stepping up to assist Tedford Housing for a very long time. They do this by volunteering to provide daily evening meals to the adult shelter guests. The monetary value of these contributions is enormous, but the nourishment and dignity afforded to those who are struggling is priceless.

For the past eight years I have coordinated the Meal-A-Month program, and it has been my pleasure to witness the many upstanders in our midst.

At the present time there are around 27 individuals, church and neighborhood groups, the college, businesses and restaurants providing a full dinner to the guests of Tedford’s adult shelter almost every evening of the year. And they’ve been at it, in some cases, for decades. These volunteers prepare and deliver delicious home-cooked meals to the shelter by 5 p.m. without fanfare. These reliable, self-directed folks have their own reasons for participating in this program – be it their faith in action, commitment to community service, being good neighbors, or just because it’s the right thing to do.

Over this past summer, I had the opportunity to consult with Annie Rose, an intern at Tedford Housing. In her capacity as the Bowdoin College Community Service Fellow, Annie worked on several projects, including the Meal-A-Month program, where she successfully transitioned the monthly calendar to an online scheduling program. Annie’s computer literacy skills enabled me to step away from a particularly labor intensive task, freeing up time to focus on other aspects of the program. Since I enjoy networking the old fashioned way, I am planning to recruit more community partners to join the cadre of meal preparers, and I know you are out there!

If you’ve been wanting to be part of a solution, this volunteer opportunity might be the perfect fit. No particular cooking experience is needed, and we are happy to help you in figuring out quantities and menu planning. Some groups cook together, while others prefer working solo. Volunteers can sign up for a regular day (i.e. the first Monday, etc.) and others work better on a fill-in basis. Perhaps you could organize a group of friends, people from your exercise or yoga class, or co-workers / colleagues to prepare a meal. If you would like to hear first-hand from someone who’s done this for a while, I will be happy to make that connection.

Yes, there is much strife in the world and it can be hard to know how to alleviate human suffering, but as Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Working together, sharing our time and resources, our town’s many upstanders can shine a light to those in need in our own backyard.

Joanne Rosenthal is a former board member and volunteer of Tedford Housing, social worker and activist.

Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community.

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