As our state continues to grapple with the tragedy that took place last month in Lewiston, thankfulness is hardly the foremost emotion. Families and friends are grieving. Neighbors are fearful. People all over Maine are angry. But there have been numerous acts of remarkable bravery, extreme selflessness and effusive support.

Those are qualities we look for every year in choosing our Mainers to be thankful for. While we again are recognizing community members who show exceptional kindness and generosity in their everyday lives, we also wanted to acknowledge the people who stepped up in a time of crisis and express our gratitude while we continue to mourn and begin to heal. Photos by staff photographer Gregory Rec.

Team Lewiston

From left, Chad Hopkins, survivor of the shooting at Just-In-Time Recreation; Father Daniel Greenleaf, pastor of the Prince of Peace Parish in Lewiston; Sophia Bailey, co-owner of Jeff’s Jamaican Cuisine food truck; the Rev. Debbie Duval, pastor of the High Street Congregational Church UCC in Auburn; Regan Thibodeau, Deaf interpreter for police press conferences; Katrina White, therapy dog handler for Safe Voices with Oliver, a therapy dog; Cpl. Elgin Physic of the Maine State Police; Colin O’Neill, chief clinical officer at Tri-County Mental Health Services in Lewiston; and Kristin Simoneau, nurse and team leader in the emergency department at Central Maine Medical Center.

Chad Hopkins heard a gunshot, turned his head and had a second or two to make a decision. His first instinct was to rush the gunman, who was fiddling with his rifle about 30 feet away. But the Air Force veteran didn’t think he’d have enough time before the gun was working again. So he turned to his mother and the other 40 or so members of his bowling league and yelled at the top of his lungs: “Shooter. Everyone out,” and pointed to an exit.

He and others at Just-In-Time Recreation and Schemengees Bar & Grille in Lewiston, some who didn’t make it out alive, acted with utter selflessness in response to the tragic Oct. 25 mass shootings that killed 18 people and injured 13 more.

“I thought, the only thing I have time for is to try to save my mother and help people get out,” said Hopkins, 47, of Lewiston. “As we ran out, I was fully expecting to take a bullet in the back.”

Another bowler, Thomas Giberti, 69, of Auburn, was shot seven times while trying help children escape, and lived.


In the minutes, hours and days that followed, law enforcement officers risked their safety to try to locate the shooter, hospital staffers worked on overdrive to save the lives of those injured, counselors and clergy spent long days consoling the community, and many others stepped up to offer whatever they could in the face of unthinkable loss.

Nurse Kristin Simoneau was at home in the early evening with her three children when she found out about the shootings. Her husband, a police officer, was already on the scene. She had no relatives nearby, so she asked her children’s day care provider to watch them and headed to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. She’s a team leader in the emergency department, which was already over capacity before 14 shooting victims were brought in. Three would die.

Simoneau worked until about 1:30 a.m. helping to care for victims, then got a few hours sleep and was back to work at 7 a.m. She said her training and adrenaline helped her through it, as well as the skill of her co-workers, all dealing with a completely unprecedented emergency.

“Our charge nurse did an amazing job of moving people who weren’t critical to patient floors,” said Simoneau, 32, one of about 100 hospital staffers who were called in that night. “You just can’t practice for something like that.”

By about 9 p.m., Regan Thibodeau of Windham had found out that two members of Maine’s tight-knit Deaf community had died, shot playing in a cornhole tournament at Schemengees. She’d learn later that two others had died as well. She and other interpreters “dropped everything” and went to hospitals, witness centers, anywhere they might be needed. She and others worked to get information out to the Deaf community as events developed.

Thibodeau was later called in to interpret televised press conferences by police and state officials while the shooter was still believed to be at large. One of her friends killed in the shootings, Josh Seal, had been the interpreter for Maine Center for Disease Control press conferences during the pandemic.


“I knew Josh Seal, if he was not killed, would have been right there doing this job with me or in place of me for the exact same purpose – access for all of our family and friends in town, in Maine, and in the U.S.,” Thibodeau, 45, who is Deaf, wrote in an email. “I was thinking about their Deaf wives, their Deaf children, and their Deaf family. I knew all of them, and I wanted to be sure they could learn details at the same time as everyone else.”

Maine State Police Corporal Elgin Physic was off duty when he heard about what was happening from another officer. He got dressed, got in his car and immediately joined the search for the gunman. He spent time scouring muddy areas near a Walmart distribution center and helped guard the Lewiston Armory, where witnesses were being interviewed. He tried to offer what help he could to frantic family members wondering about loved ones who were at the shooting sites.

One woman came looking for her husband, whom she didn’t know yet had died. Physic had no news to offer then but found out later about the woman’s loss.

“I’ve done death notifications before, but this was different,” said Physic, 45, who also coaches the Lewiston High School boys’ basketball team. “This was sending somebody away who in the next 15 minutes was going to find out her husband was dead.”

More than 350 police and law enforcement agents would eventually work on the search for the gunman and on the shootings investigation.

An English Cream Golden Retriever therapy dog named Oliver and his handler, Katrina White, were among those who responded the night of the shootings. Police had worked with White through Safe Voices, an organization that helps domestic violence survivors, and asked her and Oliver to come comfort the witnesses as they waited to talk to police at the armory.


“Everyone was in shock. But I can’t think of anyone Oliver greeted who shied away from (him). Some got down on the floor with him,” said White, 41, of Turner. “Being with a dog is a safe place; dogs provide that unconditional love. We were just trying to be a calming presence for people. ”

With Lewiston and Auburn locked down and businesses closed as police searched for the gunman, Sophia Bailey wondered, “What are they going to eat? I felt like we had to help the police so they could catch the guy.”

She and her husband, Jeff Bailey, opened their food truck, Jeff’s Jamaican Cuisine, parked in a store lot on Lisbon Street in Lewiston and offered free food all day to police, first responders, reporters and anyone else. Other businesses did the same, Bailey said.

Father Daniel Greenleaf, pastor of Prince of Peace Parish, based in Lewiston, couldn’t open the parish’s five churches the day after the shootings. Instead, he organized online masses for his 15,000 parish members. When the churches could open on Saturday and Sunday, collection money gathered went toward families of victims, including for funeral costs. Greenleaf also helped plan a vigil, a sacred music performance and a blood drive.

At High Street Congregational Church UCC in Auburn, the Rev. Debbie Duval’s service after the lockdown featured cornhole boards and flowers near the front of the church. The church’s custodian, Bill Lelansky, knew people killed at Schemengees, all there to play cornhole. He would have been there too, if not for a sore shoulder, Duval said.

Counselors and mental health professionals rushed into action after the shootings. But much of their work likely still lies ahead.


“When something like this happens, everyone supports the hell out of it, celebrities come in. But in a few weeks, they go away,” said Colin O’Neill, 55, chief clinical officer at Tri-County Mental Health Services in Lewiston. “That’s the critical point, that’s when we need to take care of each other, to recognize who is not able to function as well as before, who is kind of struggling.”


Amran Osman, 25, Lewiston

Once the only Somali girl taking the toughest classes at Lewiston High School, a quiet immigrant named Amran Osman has found both her voice and her purpose.

When her brother Abdi died from an overdose two years ago, Osman realized the types of organizations that might have helped him were focused on a wider, whiter community that didn’t connect with many of the people she knew.

So the 2021 University of Southern Maine graduate decided she would create one.

“I realized nobody’s doing it. Might as well do it,” she said, happy that she could “use my voice and actually make change” that could save and improve lives.


An early supporter and ongoing backer of Osman’s efforts was Steve Whalen, an Auburn native who is managing partner of City Realty in Allston, Massachusetts.

From the start, he said, he was “struck by her poise and clarity of focus.”

Osman, 25, told him community members would say a young person “died in their sleep” instead “of talking and being open about the truth, which was they had overdosed. Her mission was to get people to open up about mental health and substance abuse issues and begin the healing process by talking about these issues.”

Generational Noor, which offers a safe space for immigrant families and young people to gather and talk about difficult issues in their lives, is the result.

Osman, who moved to the United States from Kenya at age 3 and lives in Lewiston, said her siblings carry the last name Noor, which means light.

“I think it’s going to be a generational effort,” she said, “and hopefully this organization will be the light.”


Though Osman spends many hours weekly organizing round-table talks and keeping Generational Noor open on weekends and evenings for students to hang out or do homework, she isn’t paid for any of that.

“It’s a passion project for me,” she said of the organization, which is in the process of becoming a recognized nonprofit. “The work I do is a love letter to my family and my siblings.”

Whalen said that after the Oct. 25 mass shooting in Lewiston that left 18 dead, “I felt powerless and just hurting for the people killed and wounded, their families and the community as a whole.”

“Then I started to see the posts from Generational Noor opening up the conversation and getting the community together,” he said. “This gave me hope.”


Michelle Legare, 45, Lovell

Michelle Legare sees her role as the school resource officer at Oxford Hills Middle School and Paris Elementary School as helping to bridge the gap between the school and the community.


“I’m always here to be another trusted adult in the building,” Legare said. “I support the kids and their families and try to be a good role model and steer them in the right direction.”

Legare has been a school resource officer in Paris for the past four years. She formerly worked as a police officer in Fryeburg for 11 years before moving to the Paris department. Two years later, she jumped at the opportunity to work in the schools, where people say she’s the first one in the building in the morning and the last to leave.

Legare is also known for her volunteerism in the community, helping with winter coat, food and school supply drives, and she coaches middle school softball.

“Day in and day out, she is looking for opportunities to help students better themselves,” middle school counselor Brandon Baer said. “She’s actively in the community getting kids to come to school. She’s helping the students get the best possible education they can, regardless of the situation at home.”

That extends into summer, when she volunteers as a counselor at Camp Postcard in Wiscasset, a weeklong camp for kids who otherwise would not have that opportunity. Campers are referred by teachers, principals and school resource officers, Legare said.

Legare, who lives in Lovell with her wife, two cats and a dog, said she is just helping students and their families, and she loves to celebrate their successes along the way.


“I can’t think of anything I’d rather do,” Legare said. “It makes me feel good to help other people. I love working with kids and making that connection to families. I think everyone deserves the same fair shot at life.”


Janice Sweeney, 70, Jay

When Janice Sweeney was a student at Jay High School, she volunteered at the snack shack at athletic games. She graduated in 1971 but never stopped volunteering.

Sweeney now leads a crew to put on Friday night takeout dinners at the VFW Post 3335 in Jay that raise money for veterans and community programs. She also spends time helping out at the Jay, Livermore, Livermore Falls Food Cupboard, including volunteering at its free dinners at St. Rose Community Center in Jay.

The 70-year-old, who is widowed and lives in Jay with her two dogs, has retired twice so far – first from Wausau Paper at the Otis Mill after 25 years when it closed in 2009, then from managing the private Hill Side Sports Club in Jay. She’s now the kitchen and bar manager at the VFW, a volunteer 20-hour-per-week position.

“She can’t say no! It’s not in her vocabulary, and the citizens of this small community are forever grateful for this beautiful angel,” her sister, Sue Fournier of Freeport, wrote in her nomination for Mainers To Be Thankful For.


Sweeney also serves on the local board of Special Olympics and raises money for the nonprofit through yard sales that she started holding at her house nine or 10 years ago. The first donation she gave to the committee was about $400. The last sale at her house, two years ago, raised $3,500. It got so large that she arranged to move it to the VFW Post, where it’s been held since.

“It is a feel-good thing to do stuff for other people. It’s as simple as that,” Sweeney said. “I just don’t think of what I do as special. … It’s just what I do.”


Regan Thibodeau, 45, Windham

Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Following the mass shooting in Lewiston on Oct. 25, Regan Thibodeau, a deaf American Sign Language interpreter and professor of American Sign Language at the University of Southern Maine, found herself in the dual role of being an advocate for the deaf community while also grieving the loss of multiple close friends.

Four members of the deaf community were killed while playing in a cornhole tournament for the deaf community at Schemengees Bar & Grille on Lincoln Street. As the survivors fled, they reached out to warn their friends not to come to the bar.

“People that escaped were texting other people who were on their way to say, ‘Hey, don’t come,’” Thibodeau said. Word spread quickly.


Joshua Seal, who Thibodeau worked with through the COVID-19 crisis translating the daily messages from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, was one of the people murdered at Schemengees.

Another was a close family friend, Bryan MacFarlane, who Thibodeau has known for over 30 years. She felt responsible for delivering the heartbreaking news of his death to MacFarlane’s mother. “I feel like it’s better from somebody they know than not.”

Thibodeau recognized the immediate need for communication within the deaf community. Official channels would soon disseminate information, and an ASL interpreter was crucial. Seal would have been one of the people tasked with this job.

“I didn’t know that Josh was gone, but I knew that he was missing. I knew that there wasn’t a deaf interpreter there,” Thibodeau said, “I went out when there was an active shooter because I wanted to provide access. I wanted people to know they needed to be in lockdown, to keep an eye out, to call the police if they saw something.”

Individuals who are deaf get information through diverse methods. Some rely on voice-to-text or auditory cues. Many, like Thibodeau, use American Sign Language.

ASL is not a direct word-for-word translation of English. For many deaf individuals, it serves as their primary language. In places such as Lewiston and Auburn, with non-English speaking communities, some deaf residents use ASL as their first language.


“My access priority is American Sign Language,” Thibodeau said. “I want to make sure that deaf individuals that moved from different places around the world are included.”

At the news conference Oct. 26, the day after the shootings at Schemengee’s and Just-in-Time Recreation bowling alley on Mollison Way, she stood at the front of the room, knowing that people from the deaf community had been killed, forced to hold onto that information she had learned through her network. It was information she had to keep to herself.

“It wasn’t my job to tell people.” she said. “The community was starting to share things. But my job, when it comes to press briefings, is to interpret what’s being said there, and that was it.”

She and her team had to educate members of the media, local law enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation about how translators needed to appear on the screen.

Without thoughtful positioning in front of the cameras, “Part of my fingers were cut off, part of the side of my head was cut off,” Thibodeau said. The same community who had initially spread the news about the shootings were now going through the telephone tree getting the message out that the interpreter needed to be more visible on screen.

After speeding up to Lewiston from her home in Windham, Thibodeau relocated to a local hotel with her team and another interpreter for the duration of the manhunt and the aftermath. She found solace in spending time with other interpreters who could understand the complexities of grieving while working.


“We don’t have the liberty of being able to grieve yet because we need to be grieving together,” Thibodeau said. “And that means deaf people and hearing people grieving together through access.”

She found strength in the deaf community, her family and strangers. “My support system is my community. Talking with survivors, talking with the families who lost their husbands, that helped me in my own process.”

“My children were amazing,” she said. “They came out to the hotel because I wasn’t ready to come home. I have older kids. They were able to process some of this. My husband works in another state, but he was here as much as he could be.”

An emotional Thibodeau described her experience seeing fans at a Patriots game in Massachusetts using the “I Love You” sign during a moment of silence for shooting victims.

“It was the first time I ever understood a moment of silence,” she said. “I’m already in a silent world. Moments of silence are my day-to-day.”

She said it hit her hard “to see strangers, people that didn’t know us here in Maine, sitting at that game and doing that. That was the first time I lost it.”


Her students at the University of Southern Maine contributed to a meal train to get food to the families of the victims,  those injured and survivors. Later on the assistance widened to help support people, such as the interpreters.

“I have a meal in my refrigerator from one interpreter, which is special. Sometimes you get back home after something like this and you’re not yet ready to take on the world again.”

Editor’s note: Regan Thibodeau communicated to the writer for this interview through an American Sign Language interpreter. 


Bill Burns, 62, Portland

Bill Burns starts the day early.

He has to, in order to drive people to their 7 a.m. appointments at the methadone clinics that are hard to reach without a car. But he doesn’t mind the hour because he believes in the power of treatment and knows how important the medication is to the people who get in passenger seat.


“When some of us are suffering, we’re all suffering,” Burns, 62, said. “We have a responsibility to try to intervene and use our skills to help others along.”

Since 2021, Burns has worked as the substance use disorder liaison for the Portland Police Department. As a civilian, he also responds with officers to calls about overdoses and follows up to connect people with treatment and other resources. This role is the latest in a long career dedicated to helping people who are unhoused.

Originally from upstate New York, Burns lives in Portland with his wife, Lara. He first came to Maine to work for Preble Street and for years ran the nonprofit’s former resource center in Portland. People who have worked with Burns said he goes far above and beyond the basic requirements of his job, whether he is using his day off to help someone move into an apartment or helping officers deliver difficult news about a fatal overdose.

Jennie Soares is the supervisor at Elena’s Way, a 40-bed wellness shelter operated by Preble Street, and worked with Burns at the former resource center. She said he brings both humor and respect to the people he serves, getting them laughing on the way to appointments and always remembering their names.

“He’s very real,” Soares said. “He gets all that people have been through, and there’s a type of fearlessness about him in just joining with people in their joys, in their struggles.”

Maj. Jason King of the Portland Police Department said Burns helps officers look for long-term solutions that go beyond emergency calls. Recently, he helped a patient transfer from Maine Medical Center to a detox program, a rare move that King said would not have happened without intervention from Burns. His long experience is an invaluable resource.


“We’ll just be walking down Portland Street, and everybody knows who he is,” he said. “Bill is there.”


Ghomri Rostampour, 57, South Portland

This time a year ago, Ghomri Rostampour came home to find a bouquet of flowers with a note left by a group of international college students she had worked with to help secure visas and make sure their other needs were met. They thanked her for treating everyone with kindness and respect.

“They said I understand how stressful it is for people who find themselves in need. A tear came to my eye,” she said. “That was a good moment for me. It was really a Thanksgiving for me.”

Rostampour, a Kurdish American who came to the United States as a refugee, strives to help people feel safe and healthy. She believes in creating a culture of volunteer work and that, through volunteering, people will become a light in the community. She’s amid a change in jobs but her professional and volunteer work intersect. She’s an educator and immigrant advocate whose work builds community and connects Maine to the global community.

When Rostampour joined The Opportunity Alliance board in 2020, everyone “quickly discovered she is an extraordinary woman, advocate and humanitarian,” said Joe Everett, the organization’s president and CEO. When Afghan evacuees began arriving in Maine, Rostampour worked constantly to ensure they had the support they needed, he said.


She’s also brought immigrant women together to network and raise awareness about the challenges they face, helped asylum seekers secure housing and even guided the widow of an Afghan general through the red tape and fundraising needed to place a headstone on her late husband’s grave.

“She’s very curious about every person, every activity she comes in contact with. If the community needs something, Ghomri is in action,” he said. “She always seems to do it graciously and easily. She’s really a true humanitarian who wants to have a better world for the people we serve and the people she’s interacting with.”

Rostampour, 57, was a teacher and principal in Iran before fleeing political persecution. She came to Maine in 1999 and fell in love with it because it reminds her of Kurdistan. She became a citizen in 2004 and soon after settled in South Portland, where she raised her two children.

Growing up around war, she always prayed for peace and to make the world a better place to live in.

“It’s my passion. It’s coming out from my heart,” she said. “It is my belief committed citizens change the world.”



Peter Garrett, 79, Winslow

How do you get moderate politicians like Susan Collins and competing firebrands like Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders to agree on important aspects of climate legislation, both big and small? Peter Garrett says all it takes is a little respect.

Garrett has devoted much of his 79 years to combating climate change. For years he led the Maine Citizens’ Climate Lobby, meeting with lawmakers in both Augusta and Washington, D.C., to find common ground on environmental issues.

He has met with nearly every legislator in Congress and has found consensus among most of them – whether on overarching climate goals or minute policy details.

“When he’s on Capitol Hill and he runs into Susan Collins or Raphael Warnock or Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders, he found that they’re actually surprisingly open as long as he is respectful,” said Peter Dugas, a legislative liaison with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. “He has a good background on the science and a really smart way of handling people and seeing the human inside anybody.”

Garrett’s friends describe him as a staunch environmentalist, a skilled political organizer, a devoted educator and one of the most personable people you can meet. He simply describes himself as a problem solver who can find common ground with anybody.

“I have fun,” said Garrett. “I’m always thinking, ‘What should I get up to next?’ In other words, what needs doing? I’m always thinking of the next thing to work on. I enjoy solving problems.”


Garrett first became interested in environmental activism in the 1980s when he wrote weekly weather columns for the Morning Sentinel. He saw impending climate problems and quickly began working to solve them.

In 1999, Garrett became a literal trailblazer when he established Kennebec Messalonskee Trails, an organization that has constructed more than 50 miles of trails in the Waterville area in the years since.

Though building political coalitions and maintaining trails are future-focused endeavors, Garrett says he spends more time living in the present, at his home in Winslow with his wife of nearly 50 years, Jean Ann Pollard.

While he’s undoubtedly helped to position Maine’s climate movement for the better, Garrett says the future is out of his hands.

“I’ve just got my fingers crossed,” he said, smiling.



June Cauldwell, 71, Mount Vernon

When June Cauldwell reconnected with a childhood friend on Facebook, they immediately bonded over a shared interest in quilting. And that gave her an idea: Maybe she could bring other people together under the garb of teaching them sewing while creating an environment where they could socialize.

Cauldwell, 71, a retired dental hygienist who lives in Mount Vernon with her husband and two cats, always loved sewing. She saw her mother do it growing up and followed her lead, sewing costumes for theater groups, fixing zippers in old clothes people are attached to, and beautifying wedding gowns.

She also recognized the difficulty of meeting people in a rural town. So, Cauldwell, who also runs a sewing business, decided to offer sewing classes for $10, providing all the needed supplies, in addition to the wisdom.

For that, Kelly Flanagan is grateful.

Flanagan, 40, and her fiancé recently moved to Mount Vernon and were having difficulty adapting.

“I don’t have children, and we were struggling to meet people in a rural town, but (Cauldwell) changed that,” said Flanagan. She responded to the post about the sewing classes on Facebook and, over the next six weeks, spent time in Cauldwell’s home with other women, talking, laughing and learning how to sew.


“We talked about our lives and how it was moving to Mount Vernon; it helped a lot,” said Flanagan. “She was very kind and inviting and a great teacher. You will never find a class that is cheaper and so personal.”

The classes ended when it became too difficult to coordinate schedules, but the skills and the friendships are lasting.

“We had fun, we learned to sew, and it was difficult,” said Cauldwell. “But we also chatted and made friends, and that’s what it’s about.”

As the recent chairwoman of the Mount Vernon Community Center’s board of trustees, Cauldwell made changes to how things operated, both in unglamorous ways – like instituting a mission statement and bylaws and organizing a basement cleanup – and fun ways, like transforming the annual Halloween event from a gathering with candy to a full-blown party with games and a haunted treasure hunt.

“She organizes so many events that feel like the core of Mount Vernon,” Flanagan wrote about Cauldwell. “I hope every small Maine town has a June. We are so lucky to have her.”



Steve Auffant, 57, Chebeague Island

Steve Auffant is on call 24/7. The executive director of the Chebeague Island Recreation Center is also a volunteer lieutenant in the town’s fire department, an ambulance driver and Chebeague’s animal control officer.

A Connecticut native, Auffant, 57, bought a summer home on Chebeague in 2006 for his family. Ten years later, he and his wife became full-time residents. Since being hired at the recreation center in 2019, Auffant has orchestrated an estimated 40 new annual community events, summer camps and after-school activities.

He’s a wonderful person doing wonderful things for the town,” said Eliza Adams, a Chebeague resident who has known Auffant for “many years.”

Partnering with Love Your Brain, a nonprofit that promotes brain health, he provides children free bike helmets, and, working with the Yarmouth High School swim team, Auffant gives students the option to work as a lifeguard at the recreation center in return for $1,500 scholarships and free Red Cross lifeguard certification.

“Steve is dedicated to the mission of the rec center. He is a laid-back and friendly face,” said Jennifer Hackel, president of the center’s board of directors.

Auffant also helps run and maintain the local preschool, an extension of the recreation center. He covers for sick teachers and shares his lunches with summer camp children who have forgotten theirs. “Watching the little kids call him Mr. Steve warms my heart. He has a following of 2- to 4-year-olds who can’t wait to see him,” said Adams.


As the island’s animal control officer, he has relocated horses and donkeys, controlled the raccoon population and partnered with Marine Mammals of Maine to save three abandoned seal pups that washed ashore.

Auffant, who was “tentative” to accept this recognition, said, “I don’t want to take credit for all of the good things that animal control and the rec does. So many other people volunteer behind the scenes; I just have the lucky job of getting to be here.”


Khadija Ahmed, 44, Portland

Khadija Ahmed is a chef who has devoted her life to making sure people – especially new Mainers – have access to culturally relevant foods.

She believes preparing and sharing the recipes of our ancestors is the best way to avoid unhealthful processed foods and better understand our neighbors.

That’s why she founded Food For All Services, a nonprofit African market and food pantry in Portland that ensures immigrants and asylum seekers have an affordable and welcoming place to get groceries.


“It’s OK to eat other foods,” she concedes, “but eating the foods that your grandmother ate is what keeps you healthy.”

Ahmed, 44, developed her cooking skills growing up in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, which she fled at age 20. She traveled alone, through Switzerland, France and Belgium, before arriving in the United States in 2001.

“Go, you’ll be fine,” her mother said when she left. “If you stay here, you will die.”

Ahmed also is the equity and impact manager at Good Shepherd Food Bank, where she works to increase the availability of culturally relevant foods for clients of all backgrounds at nearly 600 food pantries across Maine.

Leafy greens, beans, cassava flour, dried fish and halal meats are just a few foods that some new Mainers struggle to find in food pantries, she said. Many processed foods contain meat byproducts, alcohol and other ingredients that devout Muslims avoid.

“If you are Muslim, there are very few things at a food pantry that you can eat besides cooking oil and rice,” said Ahmed, who lives in Portland with her partner and five children.


Ahmed is a board member of Full Plates Full Potential, which strives to end childhood hunger in Maine. She helped Hannaford and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute produce a multilingual guide to seafood harvested off the Maine coast.

And she created several African-inspired recipes that have been served in Portland, South Portland and Westbrook public schools, including a chicken and kale stew and a crunchy cabbage slaw.

Her diverse food endeavors remind her of a spider’s web.

“I’m all over the place,” she said, “but it all comes back to food security and cultural relevance.”


Do you know someone we should recognize as a Mainer To Be Thankful For? Nominate them at, and we’ll consider them next year.

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