By Harley Davis, Contributing Writer
UMF’s Student Maine Education Association (MEA) kicked off a semester long campaign to bring awareness to poverty in Franklin County with Operation Give Back, a food and clothing drive aimed at providing local students and families with warm clothing and food for winter. Operation Give Back featured six guest speakers from Franklin County who have experienced poverty in their own lives or through their work.
The discussion of Operation Give Back focused on poverty that is prevalent in the local community and resources within Farmington and Western Maine that are available to individuals and families who need support. Speakers at the event included Dr. Tom Ward, RSU #9 Superintendent, Steven Johndroe with Western Maine Community Action, Lisa Laflin with United Way, Kirsten Swan with the Partnership for Civic Advancement, Professor Beth Evans, a Secondary Education Professor at UMF, and Jan Collins, a high school science teacher who has been teaching for 25 years.
Dr. Ward began the talk with his history. As a child who grew up in poverty, Ward devoted his life to positively impacting children and families experiencing similar situations with poverty. “I firmly believe in giving back to your community,” Ward said.
The need to treat all people with care and compassion no matter their economic status was a reoccurring theme among the six speakers. “To be a human being to another human being means to be kind and understand them and listen to them,” Evans said. “It’s always wonderful when we can actually call on each other and get help from one another.”
President of the Student MEA Stephen Riitano was inspired to give back to the UMF community after reading “See Poverty, Be the Difference” by Donna Beegle and seeing the effects of poverty on children first-hand during his practicum experience. “You can read about something and say that’s an issue. But until it actually personally affects you, that’s when you have a call to action,” Riitano said. “UMF is such a community based school, but we’re in a bubble here too. We’re directly in the center of the community but we’re also in our own little world sometimes.”
Operation Give Back drew a large crowd of students from all majors and the local community members. “We had to turn people away because of the fire code,” Riitano said.
Melissa Eelman, a junior with a major in Elementary Education attended Operation Give Back. “It was very insightful,” Eelman said. “Dr. Tom’s talk was inspirational.”
Throughout the semester UMF’s Student MEA will be hosting other events on campus to bring awareness to poverty in the area. Currently there is a clothing and food drive to collect mittens, scarves, snow pants, clothing items and any perishable food items. Boxes for the clothing and food drive are located in the residence halls, the Fitness and Recreation Center, and Mantor Library until Feb 17.
Later in the semester #operationkeepwarm will begin. During this event the Student MEA will be collecting socks to give to students in local schools. The aim of the campaign is for people to give back what they can. “We know that not everybody has a dollar, two dollars, or three dollars to give,” Laflin said.
“There’s a lot we can do. It doesn’t mean just giving money. It means spreading the word and being a liaison between you and a student or you and a family and knowing the resources and pointing them in the right direction,’ Riitano said. To donate, contact the Student MEA at firstname.lastname@example.org.