NORWAY — Housed within the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy (CEBE) in Norway is Spoke Folks, a fledgling cooperative that supplies bikes to the community. The vision for Spoke Folks began as a resource for locals to haul trash and compost sustainably. The bikes have been available for people to borrow as its organizers worked towards its official launch.

Enter COVID-19, social-distancing and an immediate reality that accessing simple conveniences and necessities is no longer possible for some. Spoke Folks shifted gears to meet the new community need: delivering food to neighbors in need.

“We have these bikes available, but suddenly it’s not safe for people to borrow and return them,” said Jessica Cooper of Spoke Folks last week. “We decided to put them to use for the community anyway, and started a volunteer food delivery to neighborhoods around Norway. We reached out the local food pantries and restaurants and volunteered to deliver meals to those who need to shelter at home.”

Spoke Folks’ mission on its Facebook page says its purpose is to allow the residents of Norway/South Paris to stay safe at home while still supporting local businesses and meeting their own everyday needs.

Cooper and fellow volunteers/riders Scott Vlaun and Justin Bendesen launched Spoke Folks delivery on March 20. They took some kid/cargo haulers, stripped them down and then retrofitted them with food coolers. They have made a number of deliveries to customers of sandwich shops like Café Nomad, Happi Chicks, Norway Brewing Company and Ari’s Pizza and Subs.

More importantly, they are partnering with food banks to deliver food as well as prepared meals. During one day last week they brought meals to 40 residents in a senior housing complex. Their work included two days of cycling through a spring nor’easter and discovering that pulling a cooler loaded with food up Pike’s Hill is not really possible.

“Food insecurity has been a challenge for Oxford Hills, and now it’s even more difficult, with children out of school,” said Cooper. “With Spoke Folks, we can deliver food from food banks to as many local families and residents in need as possible.”

The Spoke Folks team in Norway. From L-R: Justin Bondesen, Hadley Courad, Jessica Cooper. Supplied photo

After Governor Janet Mills issued a state-wide mandate for Mainers to stay at home for all but essential work and needs local eateries saw a drop in take-out orders. Cooper said that the lull for Spoke Folks was a short one, as Fare Share Co-op reopened on Monday morning and added to the demand for local delivery.

“Fare Share has opened,” confirmed the co-op’s manager Zizi Vlaun. “We built an online store on our website. Customers can place their orders and pay online. We are offering curbside pick-up, or people can opt to have Spoke Folks as their delivery.”

Vlaun said that there is a $20 minimum order for Fare Share purchases.

“This week we are open Monday, Tuesday and Saturday,” she said. “Then next week we will be open on Tuesday and Saturday only, from noon to 4 p.m.”

Fare Share closed March 20 after learning that someone who had been in the store tested positive for the coronavirus. Vlaun said that the store has been completely cleaned and staff is taking all precautions to protect themselves, products and customers from future exposure. Partnering with Spoke Folks has provided another layer of safety.

Cooper said that Spoke Folks, along with CEBE, is taking steps to address a long view of food insecurity. They plan to continue making food deliveries even after the current public health crisis passes, including produce from the Alan Day Community Garden’s future harvests.

“The time is now,” Cooper said, of the opportunity CEBE and Spoke Folks have to foster a change towards sustainable living and return to community. “It’s difficult for people to imagine a town where folks ride bikes instead of driving. We have a tendency to seek out convenient options and lose touch with the experience of the wind or the rain or the sun on your skin, and the physical power it takes to propel a bike and get yourself somewhere.

“This is why I am so happy to be doing this work, it’s turned my reality from hopping in my car every time I need something from the grocery store or to just get to the other end of Main Street. I can get there just as fast on my bike but I’m also doing something positive for our town. It’s even more so when I’m bringing food to people I know are really in need.”

But bicycling to serve the community is not as simple as just jumping on the bike. Cooper said that Scott Vlaun gave her “rules of the road” training before she started toting Spoke Folks coolers.

“I hadn’t been on a bike since I was much younger,” she said. “I was excited and nervous. And it felt fantastic this past week riding in the rain on my own after riding with Scott the week before to learn the signaling and bike safety for the road.

“It was refreshing, even riding in the rain, and gave me a much needed break from being in the house. I feel like it’s a privilege to be on the bikes at a time like this, even with cars moving past my bike and my trailer, even with the spray from the tires on the wet road and rain dripping down my helmet onto my face. It makes me appreciate the opportunity that much more when I hop on the bike on a sunny day.”

Spoke Folks in action: Justin Bondesen (L) and Scott Vlaun (R). Supplied photo

Spoke Folks delivery is a volunteer service available to any residents within three miles of Main Street, Norway. To schedule delivery, people should email [email protected] or call the CEBE office at 207-743-2101.

Cooper said they currently have a bank of six bikes for the road and the group is happy to answer questions for anyone interested in volunteering for future projects.


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