SOUTH PORTLAND — Social worker Rebekah Crabtree, 31, has always wanted to help others and now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, she’s even more interested in reaching those in need.

Starting last week, Crabtree has been volunteering with Mainers Together, a new volunteer coordination website, to help people in her home city of South Portland who are advised not to leave their homes get groceries and other incidentals they need.

Ongoing advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautions everyone to stay home whenever possible, especially the elderly or others who might be especially vulnerable to the disease. Volunteers like Crabtree are helping those people get whatever they may need, from food to medicine.

“It’s actually been a pretty good experience,” Crabtree said. “I’m meeting people in my community that I hadn’t known before.”

Coordinators with the Maine People’s Alliance conducting a virtual training session with volunteers. The organization has started a new website, Mainers Together, to help provide services to people in need locally during the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy/ Maine People’s Alliance

The website is the product of the Maine People’s Alliance, an advocacy group that usually concerns itself with advancing progressive ideals with legislators in Augusta, but Spokesman Mike Tipping said the group saw a more immediate need and jumped into action last week.

“We have really shifted in our moment of crisis,” he said.

The website, which debuted on March 16, allows visitors to get updated advice from the CDC and submit a request for assistance.  For those looking to help, the site has a portal for making financial donations and for volunteers to sign up, too.

The day after it launched, Crabtree said she was out in the community picking up items at the store.  It’s been a somewhat informal arrangement, with recipients paying Crabtree for the goods in cash. She also has occasion to chat with some of the people she delivers to. Sometimes it’s indirect, such as through a door, but she said even a little human contact can mean a lot.

“I think people just feel cared about,” she said. “I think that matters right now.”

Tipping said so far more than 100 people statewide have contacted the alliance through the website looking for help. Many are seeking assistance with transportation, he said, while others have questions about housing, and some applicants are trying to get medication.

And then, of course, there are people looking for groceries. Tipping said actual numbers of people looking specifically for groceries were not available, but there have been many requests for help there, too.

“Baby food and diapers have been the big thing,” he said.

Tipping encouraged everyone, whether they need help or want to volunteer, to visit the site to learn more. Crabtree said the site is a good way to do something for someone else in these difficult times.

“I do think doing something, even if it’s really small, is helpful,” she said.

Sean Murphy — 780-9094

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