Chickadeeds volunteers prep vegetables for the Preble Street Food Security Hub at the community room of the First Congregational Church in South Portland. Bonnie Washuk/Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The aroma of fresh vegetables and sound of knives hitting cutting boards filled the air as 80 volunteers sliced peppers, mushrooms, celery and broccoli in the community room of the First Congregational Church.

Everyone paused to cheer as two women ran to the front of the room, ringing cowbells to celebrate another large bin filled with ready-to-use donated vegetables.

The “chop-a-thon” was the latest event organized by a community group, the Chickadeeds, which brings children and adults together once a month to support a different community nonprofit.

Their mission on a recent Saturday afternoon was to prep vegetables for soups and other meals for the Preble Street Food Security Hub.

Craig and Kate Ashman, of Cape Elizabeth, brought their daughters Eleanor, 12, and Molly, 10, “to give back to the community,” he said. “(Volunteering) is good for the kids. Hopefully they realize how fortunate they are. They kind of live in a bubble.”

Carol Smith, a grandmother from Camden, was there with her daughters, son-in-law and several teenage grandchildren.


“People need help,” Smith said. “Some of us don’t need as much as others. I’m very happy to help.”

Smith paused and looked around the room as the chopping continued. “Listen to this sound,” she said with a grin. “I haven’t seen anything like this before. It’s wonderful.”

Alison Lovejoy of Preble Street was watching, and smiling, as volunteers prepped vegetables.

“We’re so grateful that community members are coming together to make sure their neighbors have access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said. “Preble Street can’t get by without volunteers. Chickadeeds found a way to engage the next generation of volunteers in caring for their neighbors, and that is a beautiful thing.”

Chickadeeds co-founders Jennie Coyne, left, and Lauren Glennon are surrounded by volunteers prepping vegetables for Preble Street Food Security Hub on a recent Saturday in South Portland. Chickadeeds is a community organization that brings volunteers together once a month, including children. Bonnie Washuk/Staff Writer

Chickadeeds was co-founded two years ago by two mothers: Jennie Coyne, of Scarborough, and Lauren Glennon, of Cape Elizabeth. Both are former New York residents. Glennon has a background in strategic planning and used to work for the Portland School of Art; Coyne is a former teacher and also organized youth groups in New York museums.

The goal of Chickadeeds is to provide labor and supplies to help nonprofit organizations do what they do – help people, animals, the environment and more. A big part of Chickadeeds is encouraging youth volunteerism.


Nonprofits are doing good work, but opening their doors to volunteers is not something every nonprofit can easily do, especially allowing anyone younger than 18 years, Glennon and Coyne both said.

“That’s where we fit,” Glennon said. “We can design volunteer experiences that allow community members of any ages to come together, learn about the cause and help. Our favorite thing to do is to go to a nonprofit and ask, ‘What are your biggest needs?'”

Then they design a two-hour community service event that fits those needs. “We mobilize people to support them, and we create the pathways to do the work,” Glennon said. “It’s incredible to give opportunities for people to come, make a difference.”

Coyne came up with the name Chickadeeds because she loves plays on words, noting that Maine’s state bird, the chickadee, is an active, loyal and social bird.

“We’re doing good deeds,” she said. “The name of Chickadeeds felt perfect.”

Glennon and Coyne created a website in 2022 to announce who they were and list some upcoming events. Right away, “it went gangbusters!” Coyne said. “Mainers are awesome and ready for an opportunity.” When a new event is posted, the volunteer roster fills in less than half an hour, they said.


Their first event was a beach cleanup working with Maine members of the Surfrider Foundation, a national nonprofit with a mission of improving the coastal environment. That October, 100 volunteers descended on Willard Beach in South Portland for a few hours. “We cleaned up 54 pounds of garbage,” Coyne said.

Glennon and Coyne create a theme for each monthly event and partner with a nonprofit and also with others, such as artists and businesses whose missions coincide with the event.

“We feature a local vendor, artist or sponsor,” Coyne said. For instance at the Willard cleanup, Little Chair Printing came in. People brought in old shirts and canvas bags. Little Chair Printing adorned the shirts and bags with recycling eco logos.

Kate Ashman, left, and her husband, Craig Ashman, right, of Cape Elizabeth, prep food for those in need. The couple brought their daughters, Eleanor, 12, and Molly, 10, to help at Chickadeeds’ recent “chop-a-thon.” Encouraging their children to volunteer “is good for the kids,” Craig Ashman said. Bonnie Washuk/Staff Writer

At the chop-a-thon, Garbage to Gardens was on site accepting food waste from the chopped vegetables. Garbage to Gardens is an organization that collects food waste and uses it to create compost, keeping food waste out of the municipal waste stream.

At another event, 125 volunteers assembled kits for Maine Needs of personal hygiene items, including toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap and more, all donated from different sponsors. Chickadeeds assembled the kits using recycled containers given to them by Laura Marsten of GoGo Refill, a South Portland store that sells cleaning products by filling containers customers bring in, or selling products in refillable containers.

Still other events have included preparing and serving a holiday meal for the Boys and Girls Club, helping the Animal Rescue League of Greater Portland, painting barns at Camp Ketcha in Scarborough, and an Earth Day event last April when Chickadeeds planted hundreds of trees from Living Lands and Waters, a national nonprofit.


The next event is planned for April 28, when volunteers will receive and plant 500 trees from Living Lands & Waters’ national Two Million Trees Project.

The monthly volunteer events are free. Volunteers are asked for optional donations at the door.

A big component of the monthly volunteerism is a youth leader program in which kids take leadership roles. Sometimes, a young person might take the microphone and make announcements during a gathering, or help someone find their way to their car, or participate in a youth leader board meeting. During a recent meeting, youngsters said they want to help Equality Maine.

So in June, the Chickadeeds will partner with Equality Maine, work on their float for the Pride Parade and march with them, Coyne said.

Chickadeeds board member Carly Cope, of Portland, said volunteering with youth is important.

When kids take part in these events, “it empowers them,” she said. “The kids feel so jazzed after these. It’s not like dropping a box of granola bars into a bin at the school. They see it, feel it and want to do more.”

Her son, Laughlin Alexander, says it feels good to volunteer. “I just like doing it.”

Comments are no longer available on this story