Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in an occasional series called Maine Acts of Kindness, highlighting volunteer and philanthropic efforts during the pandemic.

Sandy Hill Farm owner Bill Widi packs up items for a customer at a farmer’s market on Tuesday. Widi opened his on-site sales early this year to help those who are uncomfortable with shopping at grocery stores during the virus outbreak. Customers are encouraged to make financial donations that have assisted a local food pantry. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

ELIOT — As a cancer survivor, Bill Widi knows what it’s like to be stuck in a quarantine situation.

Now 31, the owner of Sandy Hill Farm spent three months away from friends when he was 23 and undergoing chemotherapy. When the coronavirus pandemic spread across the country and headed into Maine, Widi knew what people would soon be feeling.

“I understand from a psychological standpoint what this is going to do to everybody. This has essentially made the whole country sick, even without being physically sick,” Widi said.

So what’s a farmer to do when others are in need?

Provide food.

Widi opened his on-site farmer’s market two months early. Those uncomfortable with going to a grocery store could get his fresh, greenhouse-grown produce. And while they were getting their own groceries, Widi encouraged them to donate a little extra money so he could provide produce to those in need.

On Tuesday, Widi held his third weekly market at the 40-acre farm, situated nearly on the banks of the Piscataqua River with a clear view across the water to New Hampshire. With Widi and his staff matching customer donations, the first two markets generated over $800 worth of food donations. This week Widi added more product procured from local farmers, fishermen and bakers, and a donation button to his online pre-order site. He figures to crack the $2,000 mark in total donations.

Chantal Ouellet brings out a customer’s order during the farmer’s market Tuesday at Sandy Hill Farm in Eliot.  Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Widi plans to keep going with his plan for at least another six weeks. Starting this week, the farmer’s market will be open on Fridays, in addition to Tuesdays.

“It’s cool to be on this end. I’m donating veggies, others are donating the money, but it’s kind of neat to be on Team America, you know,” Widi said.

Kittery-based Footprints Food Pantry received over $400 worth of produce after the second farmer’s market.

“They brought us six bags of absolutely beautiful pre-bagged produce to our clients,” said Karen Brown, Footprints’ executive director. “Our clients were very appreciative.”

On Tuesday morning a steady flow of customers pulled in the dirt driveway at Widi’s farm, circled around a field and pulled up to the low-slung barn that serves as the farm’s warehouse.

Widi and his staff promptly met the customers, encouraging them to stay in their car, then quickly packed up their pre-ordered goods and placed them into the vehicle.

Elfriede Walden of Eliot came to the market because “it is local and they are helping the food pantry close by,” she said as she dropped a folded bill into a donation bucket. “We’re working as a community. We’re all in this together.”

“I would come anyway but I’m ordering extra because of the coronavirus,” said Ellen Lindsey of South Berwick. “It’s a small donation, or large. Whatever you want. And I feel it’s an appropriate thing to do, especially in these times.”

From left, Jessie Fields, Jo Eaton, Chatal Ouellet and Bill Widi wave a customer into the parking lot at Sandy Hill Farm on Tuesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The farm’s food and location brings a sense of security and serenity in an anxious time, said Sara Castellez of Eliot.

“I’ve been to the grocery store once in the past two weeks and it was traumatizing. It was too many people and I don’t think it was coordinated well. (Widi) has done a great job at making this a smooth transition to get groceries and things that you need,” Castellez said.

“It’s great food but we love supporting the community, too,” said Kate Slater of Eliot. “I think everyone is really struggling with knowing what to do right now in terms of supporting businesses that they love. … This is a very real, tangible thing, where I can feed my family and support a local business that I love.”

MAINE RV DEALER ASSISTS BOSTON MEDICAL TEAM

Mary Takach of Cape Elizabeth works on a medical team supporting the homeless in Boston. Using tents set up in a parking lot, Boston Health Care for the Homeless provides medical care round the clock.

Part of the medical team for the Boston Health Care for the Homeless program gather outside the RV donated by of Lee’s Family Trailer Sales and Service in Windham with the help of one of the nonprofit’s health policy advisers, Mary Takach of Cape Elizabeth. Photo courtesy of Mary Takach

Takach, the nonprofit’s senior health policy adviser, usually commutes to Boston to assist with this work. During the pandemic, she’s been staying down there at a hotel.

Last Friday, after weeks of watching the staff take breaks in cars and having to change in porta-potties, she began calling RV dealers to find a better way for them to work and recharge. Rentals of RVs in Boston proved too costly, so she called around Maine.

On her second call she spoke to Dan Caffey, owner of Lee’s Family Trailer Sales and Service in Windham, who said he would have a new 30-foot, fully-loaded Winnebago ready for Takach to pick up the next day – but as a loaner, not a rental.

“I wanted to help however we could. We like doing things for our community. And we’re very proud of this one,” said Caffey, who has a daughter working as a nurse in Maine. “It’s a little overwhelming, when you see Mary’s photos, of what it’s like down there, the pictures of the tent city. Up here, we’re not overwhelmed like they are.”

The Boston medical team provides health care to 11,000 homeless people. For the first time, one of the patients tested positive for coronavirus earlier this week, Takach said, and they’re now expecting many more.

“Our staff works so hard,” Takach said. “They worked through the thunderstorm and the snowstorm. They do 12-hour shift rotations. It’s barely sustainable. This made it a little more sustainable. It’s a tough part of town. (Caffey) gave them a little oasis here.”

T-SHIRT CAMPAIGN TACKLES FOOD INSECURITY

Two Gorham High teachers are looking to help alleviate food insecurity in their community.

Sarah Drury, a health and sports medicine teacher, and Neile Nelson, a math teacher, have started a campaign called “Separated But Not Divided.” Through April 12, they will sell T-shirts (designed by Drury’s aunt, Joanne Matusko, a K-3 art teacher) for $20, with all proceeds going to the Gorham Food Pantry and the Gorham BackPack Program, which provides food to needy students on weekends and vacations.

So far they have sold over 200 T-shirts. Hussey Seating Co., in North Berwick, also donated $500.

“There are a lot of people right now feeling job insecurity and food insecurity,” said Nelson. “And we felt in the coming months, these resources could be depleted quickly.”

Drury originally planned to have her students participate in a letter writing campaign to health care workers, but realized “we needed something to engage more members of the Gorham community.”

They reached out to 320 Ink, a screen printing company in Westbrook, to print the T-shirts. They’re hoping to extend the campaign throughout the state. Teachers at Massabesic and Portland high schools have expressed interest in joining the campaign.

You can contact them on Twitter or Instagram or by emailing them at: [email protected]

– Staff writers Deirdre Fleming and Mike Lowe contributed to this report.

Are there folks in your community going out of their way to help others during the virus outbreak? If so, please send details about their efforts to [email protected]

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