Volunteers for the River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition distribute food for the senior commodities program in the parking lot at Exchange and River streets in Rumford. Distributions are held the second Wednesday of the month.  Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

RUMFORD — The River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition is seeking more money for its substance abuse prevention and food distribution programs as it continues expanding partnerships with similar organizations.

Allie Burke, executive director of the coalition, and Melissa Harding, program coordinator for the coalition’s Drug-Free Community grant and overseer of the John T. Gorman grant, recently attended a weeklong leadership forum organized by Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America in Washington, D.C.

“We were invited to meet with our representatives and pitch for more funding for substance abuse prevention work,” Harding said. She brought along a fact sheet to share with members of Maine’s congressional delegation.

The coalition’s concerns about drug abuse prevention and food programs go beyond the River Valley, prompting partnerships with organizations with similar interests, including Healthy Oxford Hills based in Norway.

A five-year grant of $125,000 from the Office of National Drug Control Policy last November has resulted in more community partnership and members attending River Valley coalition meetings, Harding said.

“That’s great because it means more people are coming to the table and talking about substance abuse in our community and finding ways to work together,” she said.

Further, more volunteers have come forward to support and assist with coalition programs, including the monthly food distribution to senior citizens held from 9 a.m. to noon every second Wednesday of the month in the parking lot at Exchange and River streets in Rumford.

“We see about 240 people in that time, mainly from all over the River Valley,” Harding said.

A grant from the John T. Gorman Foundation and Wayside Food Programs, both based in Portland, have led to more resources for River Valley residents.

“I work with my Wayside connection to now have Good Shepherd Food Bank distribute fresh fruit and produce for everyone,” Harding said.

The John T. Gorman Foundation also makes it possible for the coalition and its volunteers to feed 150 students and their families during school vacation weeks in December, February and April, Burke said. KeyBank donates bags and local community partners and volunteers pack and deliver the them for staff to distribute.

“We’ll definitely be reapplying for more funding,” Burke said. “We hope to ask for more funding because we have more people in between the times we deliver food, asking for more food. And the schools are asking for more food.”

Burke also said the coalition’s Board of Directors and Executive Board have been instrumental to the program’s successes.

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