A thank you letter to Central Maine Medical Center from a local Cub Scout. Submitted photo

LEWISTON — Mary-Anne Ponti hasn’t seen anything like it in her 40 years as a nurse: Countless meals, thousands of masks, Girl Scout cookies, whoopie pies, adorable thank-yous, even a gift from a Chicago Cubs first baseman.

“Talk about a shot in the arm, if you will,” said Ponti, chief nursing officer at Central Maine Healthcare.

Nearly two months since people began staying home and bracing for the local impact of COVID-19, hospital staff are marveling at the volume of donations that keep pouring in from the community, struck that it hasn’t yet let up.

At St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, it’s been masks from Tambrands, Home Depot, Harbor Freight, Dubois Electric, Sherwin-Williams, Central Maine Community College and others. Gloves and lab coats from BPL Lewiston, the plasma donation center.

“Utz gave us a whole bunch of potato chips and pretzels for our staff. Valley Beverage gave us energy drinks for those on the front line to keep them going and awake,” said Steve Costello, a spokesman for St. Mary’s. “I love going up there when those things get delivered because everybody has big smiles on their faces — even though they’ve got their masks on, you can see it in their eyes.”

Central Maine Medical Center staff show one of the Grazi to Go meals delivered in the last seven weeks. Customers have raised funds to deliver a weekly meal to both CMMC and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, both in Lewiston. Submitted photo

Mary Graziano Richard has delivered 35 to 40 Grazi to Go meals each week for seven weeks to both Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s after Jessica Strelitz, a Brunswick native now living in Virginia, reached out.

Strelitz organizes, Richard cooks and both fundraise.

“I’m very excited to be able to do this one small thing for these people who are putting themselves in the line of fire, as you could say, to take care of everybody,” Richard said Monday.

Nino and Nadine Naous, owners of Mobil On The Way on Lisbon Street, donated $6,000 in Mobil gift cards to staff at both hospitals, Lewiston police and United Ambulance Service emergency workers.

“They’re the front lines, and they’re the ones exposed the most,” Nino Naous said. “We wanted as a community to see what we could do to try to cheer them on, a token of appreciation.”

Gail True, leader for Girl Scout Troop 954 in Rumford, said her five members, all sophomores in high school, are used to charitable cookie giving. Their dance teacher is also a nurse, which inspired them to reach out and raise enough funds to give 33 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to Rumford Hospital and nine to Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway.

They attached notes like: “We need Samoa people like you.”

“They decided they wanted to do something special,” True said. “They are very aware that lots of people have to still be going to their jobs and doing what they need to do, that’s a big part of it.”

Central Maine Healthcare, which includes Central Maine Medical Center and Rumford and Bridgton hospitals, have received more than 160 separate donations, according to spokeswoman Kate Carlisle.

A Poland construction company owner was among the first to donate, offering up his company’s masks.

“We have been overwhelmed and so grateful for the incredible generosity,” she said. “We have had random donations of people who discovered they have masks or have face shields from a woodworking project and we gratefully accept everything.”

An Auburn man last week delivered 1,500 homemade face coverings, which “we can really, really use because we’re starting to open up and resume some medically necessary surgeries and procedures that had to be delayed when we were really in the thick of the outbreak,” Carlisle said.

They’ll be given to people who arrive at the hospital and don’t have one.

A nurse at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center with one of the 250 whoopie pies Sam’s Italians donated last week. Submitted photo

In addition to the meals, gift cards, chips, cookies and drinks, CMMC also received a call from Major League Baseball player Anthony Rizzo’s family foundation. Before joining the Chicago Cubs, Rizzo was part of the Boston Red Sox organization, playing one season with the Portland Sea Dogs.

Rizzo lived with Dr. Paul Weldner, a cardiac surgeon, and his family, and they’ve stayed in touch. His foundation donated $1,500, providing meals from boba, an Asian bistro in Lewiston, for two shifts in the cardiovascular unit and emergency department.

“That was a really great and much appreciated gift,” Carlisle said.

Peter Wright, president of Bridgton and Rumford hospitals, said he’s been moved by how sustained the community effort has been.

More often, people might rally to a cause and move on to the next.

“We today still get, 60 days later, regular support for a variety of things — we get letters from kids, from patients,” Wright said. “The most overwhelming part was when they started putting up signs” with messages like, “thank you, heroes.”

“It made me well up, to be candid,” he said. “Nobody in Rumford or Central Maine feels like heroes, it’s just what they signed up to do. It’s a huge morale booster.”

Ponti, the chief nursing officer, said nurses have been thrilled, humbled and appreciative when meals arrive.

“It makes them feel so good,” she said. “They’re working so hard. It is definitely a calling.”

Shifts these days aren’t longer, “but our work has changed, it’s gotten very, very different,” Ponti said. “We have to be much more flexible with where we do our work and how we do our work. I have staff moving into different areas.”

They’ve had to go through a lot of training on infection prevention and retraining on isolation procedures and taking protective gear safely off and on.

“I think at the beginning, there was just fear of the unknown everywhere,” she said. “When I would talk with the staff, they really did keep good spirits. We are here to care for the community, care for the patients and the families. We’re doing it differently but the outpouring has just been so well-received.”


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