Amy Regan Gallant wanted to do something special for the asylum seekers housed at the Portland Expo so she went to her Facebook page a few days ago and suggested hosting a welcoming picnic for them July 4th at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth.

She had no idea how big a response she’d get. Since the South Portland resident posted the idea, about 200 people have said they are interested in attending or volunteering at the picnic, which will be held from 1-5 p.m. Thursday. Gallant said the gathering at one of the state’s most idyllic parks will provide some respite to asylum seekers who fled violence in their homelands in Africa.

“I wanted to do something for the asylum seekers,” said Gallant, a lobbyist who is on maternity leave. “I love where I live and I wanted to share some of that natural beauty with them.”

Custom Coach and Limousine will provide two buses to transport asylum seekers between the Expo and Fort Williams on July 4th. The buses will run between 1 and 5 p.m. and passengers can ride for free, Gallant said.

Once they’ve arrived at the 90-acre park, home to Portland Head Light, the refugees will be treated to free ice cream, kite flying, face painting, hair braiding and a chance to play soccer.

Custom Coach and Limousine, a Gorham-based company, offered her a reduced rate – Gallant was able to raise the remaining $1,000 cost through a gofundme campaign. The town of Cape Elizabeth, which charges $300 to use the picnic shelter, gave it to her for free. A friend will donate $500 worth of ice cream and Gallant purchased 12 soccer balls.

Gallant said the community’s response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It has truly been a community effort,” she said. “People have been contacting me. They want to know how they can help.”

The Congolese Community of Maine posted a Facebook notification alerting its members about the picnic.

“This wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the tremendous support of our local community. You know who you are!” COCOMaine said in the post.

The Expo has housed up to 292 registered asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, and more than 200 remain. The asylum seekers entered the U.S. at the southern border last month. COCOMaine has provided interpreters and volunteers at the Expo.

Most of the asylum seekers traveled for months, traversing Central America and Mexico, to get to Portland. They asked for asylum in Texas, and were cleared to travel on while they pursue legal asylum status, a process that can take months.

Some of the families have attended a Sea Dogs baseball game – Hadlock Field is located next to the Expo – but Gallant said she is not sure whether many have visited Portland Head Light or Fort Williams Park.

She said a couple of people have volunteered to distribute photographs of the lighthouse and park to people staying at the Expo. Gallant hopes that once they’ve seen how beautiful it is, they will want to visit.

“I’m planning for 300, but I would love it if just 100 came. Right now, I just don’t know,” Gallant said.









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