A Bath Housing resident picks up food made by Mama Mo’s restaurant. The food was provided by Cooking for Community. Photo courtesy of Bath Housing

BATH — Local community service groups are helping Bath Housing care of their residents, who are considered at high risk for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

Bath Housing — which provides affordable housing to seniors, disabled households and families — is partnering with Cooking for Community, which provides prepared meals from local restaurants. The initiative raises money for restaurants to make meals for those in need using as much local produce as possible.

For the past month, Bath Housing has received 140 meals each week made by Mama Mo’s, a Yarmouth-based restaurant that specializes in soups and other comfort foods.

“Bath Housing residents are high risk [for COVID-19] and many of them feel anxious and isolated, so being able to provide a homecooked meal can really help with that,” said Debora Keller, executive director of Bath Housing. “Each week they’re getting a hearty, healthy meal someone made with love.”

Keller said bringing food and other supplies to the residents helps them stay safe at home per Gov. Janet Mills’ stay-at-home order, which remains in effect through Sunday.

Cooking for Community has partnered with 10 restaurants and nine social service agencies as of Thursday, according to Ellie Linen Low, a volunteer organizer and strategist at Cooking for Community.  Over the past six weeks, the organization has delivered 10,000 meals to people in need and delivers 2,200 meals per week.

Low said the organization was formed in March “as an immediate crisis response service,” and aims to feed those in need while keeping local restaurants and farmers in business.

Monique Barrett, owner and “head soupstress” of Mama Mo’s, said she became involved with Cooking for Community after a volunteer reached out to her “because they needed 140 quarts of frozen soup. … That’s like 300 pounds of soup.”

Since then she has made an array of comfort foods, such as meatloaf and shepherd’s pie, exclusively for Bath Housing. She said Cooking for Community has allowed her to give food to those in need while also staying in business.

“One of the biggest things I’ve struggled with is figuring out how to make this a profitable business while still finding ways to help people,” said Barrett. “If someone said ‘I don’t have any food’ I’d just bring them food. Financially, I couldn’t afford to give everything away, but Cooking for Community made it possible for me to do that.”

Barrett said giving back to the community is especially important to her because she understands what it’s like to be the one in need of help.

“I’ve been a single mom for 10 years, and in that time I’ve been in school and trying to support my family,” she said. “There have been times when I needed to ask my community for help with food or paying my bills, and I know it’s not easy to ask for help. To go from needing help myself and giving help, I just feel grateful.”

Delivering the essentials

Lisa Boley, office manager at Bath Housing, loads supplies of toiletries and hygiene products donated by Midcoast Maine Community Action Photo courtesy of Midcoast Maine Community Action

Bath Housing also received non-food essentials, including toilet paper, laundry detergent, toothpaste and other hygiene supplies from Midcoast Maine Community Action.

In total, Bath Housing and Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program received 7,980 toiletries and hygiene products, which were purchased through Wiscasset Woods Lodge for $3,686.83, according to Berkowitz.

Keller said Bath Housing residents identified hygiene products as something they were having a hard time finding, especially toilet paper, which has been in short supply since COVID-19 reached Maine in March. She said her goal is to bring residents as much as possible so they don’t have to leave the property and put themselves at risk to find it.

“Nobody thinks about (hygiene products), but they’re a huge need in the day-to-day lives of people,” said Claire Berkowitz, president and CEO of Midcoast Maine Community Action. “They’re daily living items that we take for granted.”

Berkowitz said Wiscasset Woods Lodge, a hotel 9 miles north of Bath Housing on Route 1, played an essential role in getting the hygiene supplies Bath Housing residents needed at a discounted price.

MMCA purchased the supplies using COVID-19 grant funding from the Maine Community Foundation. In total, the agency received $40,000 in grant funding from the Maine Community Foundation to be used for COVID-19 relief.

“Most of our funding comes from state and federal grants, but that funding is very restrictive,” she said. “Maine Community Foundation’s grant is allowing us to be more nimble with what we’re doing to help the community. We can see a need and respond without making sure we’re adhering to federal guidelines.”

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