Dan Hart of the Oxford Hills Rotary Club has been delivering food to people in need for the Harrison Food Bank since last April. Supplied photo

PARIS — The Oxford Hills Rotary found itself at a bit of a crossroads last March. It could no longer meet in person when the pandemic came to Maine. For a few weeks there was little communication, according to Membership Director Dan Hart.

But with the help of tech-savvy member Tina Fox, the group went virtual to resume its Wednesday meeting schedule using Zoom Conferencing. Once able to reconnect, Rotarians got some of their programs – such as college scholarships – back on track and starting discussing what they could to help the community make it through.

The Bridgton-Lake Region Rotary Club had already started supporting people who could not get out on their own with weekly deliveries from the Harrison Food Bank so several Oxford Hills Rotarians, including Hart, joined them in early April.

Bridgton/Lakes Region and Oxford Hills Rotarians, lined up to make weekly deliveries through Oxford County and beyond. Supplied photo

Hart was assigned with a list of five locations to deliver boxes of food to. Each Tuesday morning he and eight to 10 other Rotarians load their vehicles and set out on their weekly route.

“We wanted to be able to do something,” Hart said. “And people really appreciate it.”

Especially during the spring with government-issued shelter-in-place mandates and a closed economy, the Rotary drivers became an important connection for many in the community.

“It gave people something to look forward to,” he explained. “And I was pleasantly surprised that we have also been able to provide a bit of emotional support to our neighbors.

“They got a chance to chat for a few minutes. Some needed to vent a little on how difficult things have been. And we can help in other, small ways. For people stuck at home, we’ve become a resource for information on how to access health care and other support services.”

Even though fundraising events were affected – or cancelled – by public crowd restrictions, the Oxford Hills Rotary managed to forge ahead with many of its annual traditions.

Unable to hold its annual Lobster and Steak Feed in South Paris, members took stock of what they could do and transitioned it to a drive-by event. With 250 tickets available, it easily sold out, rivaling the take during some of its top years.

Rotarians have continued to fund raise, using traditional and impromptu means. They had to cancel the annual yard sale but continued to take in donated items for it, reselling to the community at large using Facebook and Craig’s List.

Once in-person meetings were allowed to reconvene in July members dug deeper into their own pockets as well.

“People are paying extra money to renew their memberships,” Hart said. “At meetings, instead of sharing a ‘happy dollar’ [story], someone might make it 25 happy dollars.”

With more generosity from within, the Rotary has been able to maintain community support. This summer and fall it donated to several organizations including Daddy O’s Acts of Kindness Foundation, the Pink Feather Foundation, Harrison Food Bank, Wreathes Across America and Christmas for Kids.

It just wrapped up its annual holiday Cabot cheese wheel sale, selling its usual 450 packages.

“We had hoped to do a lot more,” Hart noted. “We tried to order more but Cabot couldn’t do it. There was a similar fundraiser up in Farmington to support its fire department and they were sold out.”

The Rotary donated the use of one of its event tents to facilitate outdoor learning at Oxford Hills Middle School last fall and Hart expects they will set it back up as soon weather permits for spring classes.

Since October the club has had to revert back to Zoom meetings.

“Being remote brought us to Zoom, which has helped us maintain broader contacts with other clubs,” Hart said. “So we continue to meet and we’re able to move forward planning our events for next year, however they may be possible.”

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