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.

Wendy Blackwell-Moore, center, and the Rev. Tamara Torres McGovern both live in the North Deering area of Portland, but had never met until they were connected after expressing their wish to donate their government stimulus checks to the community. Pictured with Torres McGovern is her 3-year-old daughter, Tovi. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The Rev. Tamara Torres McGovern and Wendy Blackwell-Moore both live in Portland’s North Deering neighborhood. Though they share much in common philosophically, they did not know each other until the pandemic hit.

Independently, the women had come up with the same idea: to pledge a good-sized chunk of their federal coronavirus stimulus checks to local community-based organizations to help those less fortunate. And unknowingly, they shared another thought: Wouldn’t it be even better if I could encourage others to do the same?

“I was thinking about how the power in the fund is if you could collectivize it and create mutual aid,” Blackwell-Moore said. “I can donate my check, but is that really enough?”

It took a coincidence to bring Torres McGovern and Blackwell-Moore together and create synergy.

Both women consulted with mutual friend Victoria Morales, a first-term state representative from South Portland. Morales heard their kindred stories and spirit, and introduced the two women to each other. Soon the Pledge My Stimulus movement was formed.

Pledge My Stimulus is an online platform where people can make a pledge to donate some or all of their government stimulus checks. As of Thursday afternoon, Blackwell-Moore said 130 pledges had been made with a total commitment of $96,742.25.

It’s up to the individual pledge makers to follow through with the donation. Torres McGovern and Blackwell-Moore are not collecting money from others, nor are they suggesting which charities or organizations people should donate to. The pledged beneficiaries are listed on the website pledgemystimulus.com.

Torres McGovern, 40, ministers for two organizations. She is the community spiritual adviser for Arise Portland, which she termed an “emergent inter-spiritual community,” and is the director of Intergenerational Engagement at Woodfords Congregational Church.

Blackwell-Moore, 48, owns her own business, Pine Pitch Consulting, which focuses on helping companies achieve B Corp certification, a designation for companies that meet a high standard of balancing profit with socially responsible purpose.

They hope the Pledge My Stimulus program will have an impact beyond encouraging and celebrating one-time donations.

“We’ve begun to talk about, ‘Is there another stage to this? Is there a way to pledge to be in the community for the longer term, so it moves beyond just these single checks?” Torres McGovern said.

The pledges have been primarily directed toward Maine organizations but the response has been national, thanks in part to coverage from news outlets like Newsweek and, most recently, Today.com, the online face of the “Today” show. Organizations from 20 other states, as well as 10 national or international entities, have received pledges.

Most people are splitting their pledge donations.

That’s what Katie Kondrat, 39, of Portland and her family did, choosing three local organizations, each serving a different group with vulnerabilities likely to be exacerbated by the pandemic and its economic downturn.

Kondrat and her partner directed stimulus chunks to the Southern Maine Workers’ Center (Kondrat said she is a member of the nonprofit), Maine Inside Out (her partner is on the board) and Presente! Maine, which advocates for the rights of the Latinx community (Latinx is a gender-neutral term for a person of Latin American origin or descent). Since the coronavirus outbreak, Presente! Maine has organized direct aid for immigrant families, many of whom are undocumented.

Kondrat said her family was already planning on sharing some of their stimulus money. Connecting with Pledge My Stimulus added value to their individual action.

“I think it’s a little bit about accountability and also what it did for us. We knew we wanted to do this, but it made it actionable,” she said. “We wanted to support the visibility of redistributing our money, so there might be some motivation for others to do that.”

Most of the organizations slated to receive the benefit of a Pledge My Stimulus donation are groups working to alleviate food insecurity or supporting vulnerable populations.

A few donations are earmarked for political campaigns, including Joe Biden’s presidential bid and Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon’s U.S. Senate campaign.

“We made a commitment from the start to honor the places that people want to pledge,” said Torres McGovern, noting that therapeutic horseback riding stables, land trusts, colleges and environmental organizations are also among the groups that will benefit from Pledge My Stimulus.

And where will the donations from the two founders be going?

Torres McGovern is quick to point out that she and her family have not yet received their checks, like over half of eligible Americans, according to a Fortune poll released Monday. When the money does come, they will be spreading it around to Presente! Maine, refugee organizations and Maine Public broadcasting. They also are going to invest in some locally made art and completing home repair projects with local contractors.

Most of all, Torres McGovern wants to show her 3-year-old child that caring and giving can happen in a time when physical distancing can create a message of fear of others.

“She’s now trying to make sense of us moving away from people instead of moving toward them. I watch her have that fear,” Torres McGovern said. “This feels like a really important counterbalance. How do we make our care visible?”

Blackwell-Moore said her older children were very involved in the decision-making process. They opted for a three-tiered approach. Donating to the Maine Access Immigrant Network, offering assistance directly to a community member who had lost employment, and a pet project of using locally purchased products to build a chicken coop and start raising six chicks.

Blackwell-Moore hopes Pledge My Stimulus’ core idea of communitywide giving to redistribute funds and support others gains traction.

“Really long term, it’s creating a deeper sense of community for those around us by sort of stepping away from the business-as-usual economy and moving back to a gifting economy, a bartering economy and where communities survive,” she said.

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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