PARIS — Just a month ago, Liesha Labonte Petrovich was focused on Maine Jyokushin Karate, the martial arts school she and her husband Martin have run in Norway for the last 25 years.

They closed the karate school in response to the public health emergency caused by COVID-19. With a new forced luxury of spare time, Petrovich knew that residents throughout Oxford Hills would be in need of assistance and she jumped into the fray right away to get involved.

As it became clear that COVID-19 was going to threaten the security of Maine’s most at-risk residents, the Maine People’s Alliance founded Mainers Together and funded it with $25,000 in seed money.

Petrovich has worked with MPA for years, mostly focusing on issues surrounding healthcare. She signed up to volunteer for Mainers Together. Since closing the karate school doors she has committed herself to coordinating resources between different community groups for people reaching out for help as businesses close and they lose their incomes.

MPA built a website to organize a dedicated, state-wide support drive. Petrovich is involved on two fronts. She acts as co-lead for the western Maine region, connecting requests for help to local resources, and she handles those requests for the Paris community. She works closely with the Angel Pantry in South Paris, delivering not just food but any basic needs in short supply that can be found through networking.

“Whatever it is that people need, we are working across different groups to provide them,” said Petrovich. “Last week we worked on family Easter baskets. This week more people are asking for help to feed their pets. One family had no heat and her co-lead coordinator from Porter, Wyatt Barnes, was able to secure a half cord of firewood to help them through.

Volunteers working to help Oxford Hills through the COVID-19 pandemic: (L-R) Tobie Gordon, Jen Gronros, Liesha Petrovich. Supplied photo

“People can go to the website for Mainers Together and click on the ‘I need help’ link. The request is filtered to a regional lead coordinator who matches it with whatever community group or agency is best able to provide it.”

Petrovich said that Tobie Gordon of MoveOn is in charge of maintaining an ever-changing list of resources that each regional group relies on to cycle the requests through.

“We have a master list that includes agencies, individuals, food banks and pantries,” she said. “Local to our community for example, it includes Spoke Folks, which just started to provide food deliveries to people who can’t get out. Maintaining that master list is a huge job. A business that is able to provide relief today or tomorrow may be depleted the next. There are ebbs and flows with any resource on any given day.”

People in a position to offer help for their communities to get through the pandemic crisis can do so through Mainers Together. The $25,000 start-up from MPA isn’t likely to stretch too far as the timeline for social distancing increases and the economy remains at a standstill, so Mainers can make financial donations through the website. There is also a page soliciting volunteers, from coordinating response teams as Petrovich is doing, to providing transportation and rummaging supplies, to partnering with other community groups.

“Mainers Together is also a source to inform people about what they can do for themselves,” Petrovich said. “Hand sanitizer, it is impossible to get. To make your own is not necessarily safe because you need to get the ingredients just right in order for it to be effective. So what is the alternative? There is information on the site on how to hand-wash properly.

“There is a section dedicated to learning about the virus, so that people can find out what to do if they or someone in their family becomes sick. What the symptoms are, how to protect from illness, how to cope with it. There is information on safe ways to travel if it’s necessary, and what the advisories and limitations are.”

MPA launched Mainers Together as an immediate response and Petrovich is relieved that it is growing along with the demand for help.

“On the first conference call I was on, I believe there were about 200 people involved from the start,” she said. “Grass roots groups from all over are part of this. We are working to increase networks to help and connect people in need to their most local agencies.”

While Petrovich is no stranger to helping others, she said that the consequences of COVID-19 are something new.

“Not everyone tells you their story,” she said. “But a lot of people are feeling desperate right now. They have never been in this position, where their jobs are just gone and they have no source of money at all. It’s affecting different people the same way regardless of their age.”

To ask for help, volunteer in your community or provide financial support during the COVID-19 pandemic, go to www.mainerstogether.com.


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