Community Members Supply Food for Monmouth and Winthrop Students in Need During Pandemic

Abbie Hunt Contributing Writer

    Since the closing of all schools due to COVID-19 members of the Monmouth community have been stepping up to provide food for the RSU 2 school district students in Monmouth and Winthrop, Maine.

    Norm Thombs, director of Camp Mechuwana, a United Methodist Camp in Winthrop, jumped on the opportunity to help feed students in the community. Thombs is also one of the Monmouth Academy track coaches, and he and two other Monmouth track coaches, Tom Menendez, and Molly Menice helped pass out student meals.

    Together, Monday through Saturday they stand outside the Town Office in Monmouth for an hour and a half, giving breakfast and lunch to anyone in need. In addition to passing out food, the three have also been traveling to Winthrop to pass out meals to Winthrop students on Mondays and Wednesdays.

    Many students are desperate and in need of meals during this time. In one day alone they had given out 462 meals. Thombs’s plan is to continue giving out student meals as long as necessary.

    When the schools closed, RSU 2 superintendent announced that food would not be provided for kids. When Thombs heard this, he wanted to create a pandemic feeding center at Camp Mechuwana to help the community. Within two days the camp was set up to be a food distribution center. In the beginning local schools helped Thombs, Menendez and Menice, “The first week some of the school workers from RSU 2 helped out in the kitchen,” he said. However, as the closings continued, the schools were no longer able to help, leaving the three to operate alone. The Winthrop school system had also begun struggling to find help, and asked if Camp Mechuwana would be able to provide food for their students.

    Before lunchtime every day, both Thombs and Menendez travel to the camp to prepare and pick up food. A few students who had graduated from Monmouth Academy work in the camp kitchen to help prepare the meals. “[They] make all the meals and Tom and I back in the vans and load meals into them.” he said. Yet, Thombs wants as few people as possible in the kitchen due to the virus. 

    After passing out meals the group travels back to Monmouth to begin passing out meals at the town office. Whatever leftover food they have, which is normally not much, they take back to the camp and put in a cooler.

    The food to make the meals is being supplied by companies such as NorthCenter Food Company and Dennis Food and Supply. These companies supply restaurants and cafeterias. People from the community have been generously donating paper bags, sandwich bags, and food containers. “People have been sending us donations because not all our costs are covered,” Thombs said. “People have been really great.”

    Standing outside every day, often in the cold and rain, can be difficult, but Menendez said he is happy to help. “It puts a smile on their face,” he said. “At least the kids get a lunch and a breakfast.” The meals are helping meet the needs of people in the community.  

    Thombs, Menendez and Menice are experiencing added benefits as well. They are able to say hello to students, and meet new people in the community. “Some kids are so polite and so helpful when they come by with their parents,” Menendez said. “It makes you feel good.” One child who routinely goes to get lunch surprised him “There’s this one little kid who came down over the hill and asked if he could make me a picture,” Menendez said. “He came back about twenty minutes later with a picture”, Menendez now keeps the picture on his fridge.

    The food provided is mainly for students who are unable to have breakfast and lunch because of school closures, yet they will not deny anyone from the community who needs a meal. “We’ll give them an extra meal if we know the family is in need,” Menendez said. There are elderly people who may be in need, or college students who have come home from school and may not be able to afford food. “If they need it, we’ll give it to them,” Menendez said.

Keeping Faith During Quarantine

Andrea Swiedom Staff Reporter 

    As the third week of quarantine approaches, UMF students and faculty have had to adapt numerous aspects of their lives including their faith practices. For many Christians, Easter Sunday was a televised celebration this year as were many of the Catholic Holy Week traditions. Similar alterations to practicing the month-long Muslim tradition of Ramadan starting April 23 will also be made due to quarantine.

    Sophomore Abbie Hunt typically spends Easter Sunday watching the sunrise over Sabattus Pond at Martin’s Point in Sabattus with her family and friends before attending a service at Community Baptist Church in Sabattus.  

    “My family still got up early– around six– to watch the sun rise from our house. Then we had our own breakfast together. Since my dad is the associate pastor and my mom is one of the worship leaders, they went to my church to put on our live stream service,” Hunt said in an email. “My siblings and I watched the church service on Youtube Live from our couch.”

    To maintain a semblance of normality, Hunt and her sisters dressed up for the live streamed service and texted friends from church during the sermon.

    For creative writing professor Patricia O’Donnell, who practices Catholicism, the week leading up to Easter Sunday is filled with numerous opportunities to attend special mass services. “I would usually go to at least one other service that week, like Good Friday; that’s the service that I would often go to. So it was kind of hard to get into the feeling of Easter,” she said over video chat from her Farmington home.

    Instead, O’Donnell live streamed an Easter mass from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. “I have been there before and it’s beautiful! It’s like I can go visit another church!”  

    She was surprised to see how the service was conducted in the midst of the pandemic. “They had 15 to 20 people conducting the service, and they weren’t doing a lot of social distancing. They gave communion to the attendants. The priest put it in his hands as he usually did and some of the people had him put his fingers right in their mouths!”

    Freshman Yusuf Mohamed who practices Islam, can only anticipate how his upcoming Ramadan practices–a daily sunrise to sundown fast, keeping up with praying five times a day, acts of charity and attending Jummah; a Friday prayer service held at a mosque–will be altered to adhere to the stay-at-home order.

    “Actually, quarantine makes it hard because you usually try to stay productive because if you just lay down, your body gets lazy and you’re not even gonna want to pray,” Mohamed said over video chat.

    Mohamed relies on soccer to keep himself energized during Ramadan even though he is prohibited from food and water during the day. “We usually have a Ramadan soccer tournament. And even though we can’t drink water, I’m used to it. I’ve been fasting since I was 8 years old.” 

    He also anticipated quarantine interfering with a sacrifice that his family makes every year. “At the end of Ramadan, my family usually slaughters a goat for a sacrifice and eats it as a way of saying thank you to Allah. I think that might be difficult because we usually go to a farm in Green and pay the place to kill it.”

    O’Donnell also reminisced about her typical holiday non-quarantine traditions which always includes a big family dinner. “Sometimes my grandchildren would come up and we would have an Easter egg hunt here and they would go to mass with me, the two little girls. They can’t say no, only the adult children can say no,” she said laughing.

    Instead, the granddaughters, O’Donnell’s three children and their partners visited each other for Easter Sunday over a Zoom chat and then O’Donnell had a quiet dinner with her husband.  “Our special dinner was that we ordered a dinner from Harry and David. We ordered two lobster pot pies and it was sort of like eating out, and it cost about as much as eating out!”

    Despite quarantine restricting certain traditions, faith communities have found ways to keep people connected and practicing their religion. Hunt is part of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IV), a bible study group that hosts weekly fellowship, worship and games at the UMF campus.

    “Now, we are pretty much doing that same thing, but we’re doing it over Zoom,” Hunt said over a video chat from her family home in Monmouth. “Our leader shares his screen over Zoom and he plays a worship song on Youtube. So that has actually worked pretty well.”

    O’Donnell attends Saint Joseph’s Church in Farmington which is remaining connected with congregants in a variety of ways. “Our priest is good at keeping in touch through the Facebook page. He did a drive up confession. I’m not gonna do it,” she said smiling with her hand over her chest. “He let people drive up to the church hall and they have a confession there and then they drive away.”

    For Mohammed, remaining connected with his faith community during quarantine will mean spending more time with his siblings and his mother, watching Islamic lectures and leaning in even more to the purpose of Ramadan.

    “I believe quarantine will get people closer to Allah because they won’t be distracted. They’ll practice Ramadan more. It’ll make us grateful for what we have for sure,” Mohammed said. “Every year, Ramadan just brings me feelings of being grateful.”

Equestrian Club Relieves Stress by Riding Horses

Abbie Hunt Contributing Writer

Editor’s Note: Given the current pandemic and saturation of the news with COVID-19 related stories and updates, we chose to publish this club-centered piece, despite the campus closure, to give our readers a break from stressful content and show what there is to look forward to when campus reopens.

    The UMF Equestrian Club, a club open to all students, offers students a way to melt worries and bring focus. Most members of the club are passionate about horses and love spending time with animals. 

    President Jess Cloutier, who started the club, has years of experience working with horses and animals, works as a riding instructor on a farm, and is passionate about riding horses. “School can be a really stressful place but farming and being on a horse is simple,” she said. “When you ride a horse it’s not easy to forget they are a living, breathing, feeling animal… you owe them your patience and compassion. It doesn’t matter what’s due in biology, it matters what’s happening right now to that animal who trusts you to take care of it.”

    Members of the club can ride and spend time with other animals at Martin Woods Farm in Starks, which is owned by one of UMF’s professors, Dr. Martin. “When I am at the barn I don’t have to stress or think about anything else; I can be in the moment,” Farrin said. “Horses tell you how it is, there is no masking your feelings from them and they reflect it back to you. In this sense I feel that I am my true self when at the barn around the horses and riding.”

    Jordan Farrin, Vice President, became a member when Cloutier asked for her help starting up the club. Farrin has experience with horses and has kept her horse at Martin’s Farm before. “I envisioned the club as a safe, fun community where college students can come enjoy barn life, and learn to ride horses; a skill that many people never get the chance to learn,” she said.

     Suzanna Dibden, a newer member of the club who joined in October, loves animals and enjoys being outside, but she had never ridden a horse before. Dibden met Cloutier through their Positive Psychology class, where they connected on their conversations about the mental health benefits of being outdoors and bonding with an animal. Dibden then decided to join the Equestrian Club to step out of her comfort zone and try something new. “I like spending time outdoors and getting to know the horse,” said Dibden. “It’s a really special thing to communicate with an animal and to get to know their unique personalities.”

     The club rides twice a week at Martin Woods Farm. Everyone is welcome to go ride during those times, but it is not required. “We try to work with everyone’s busy schedules,” Cloutier said. Besides riding, the club hosts bonfires and relay races, which typically don’t involve horses, but just farm interaction. If anyone is interested in joining the club, Cloutier is open to students reaching out to her through email.

     Even though not everyone enjoys going to the farm to ride horses, the club also offers a safe place to escape the business of life. “Sometimes club members just come out to brush a pony, or hold a bunny,” Cloutier said.  “If anything the entire club wants people to feel welcomed at the farm to exist as they are. Anyone is welcome, everyone is welcome.”

Students in Psychology Class Use Mentoring as Extra Credit or Exam Replacement

Abbie Hunt Contributing Writer

    Sophomore Kolby Boulgier and Freshman Brenna Saucier are replacing their exams in PSY 235: Introduction to Counseling with the experience of mentoring elementary school students. Boulgier is mentoring a young girl through the Lunch Buddy program and at W.G. Mallett Elementary School once a week and Saucier is taking a different route and mentoring a little boy at the pool every week.

    Dan Seabold, a professor of psychology and the Intro to Counseling class instructor, encourages students to use volunteering in the Mount Blue School system as an opportunity to practice the skills they are learning in class. “I have always believed that it’s important for students to gain professional experience,” he said. “We can’t build confidence without real experience.” 

    Seabold allows students to use their mentoring experience as a grade booster or extra credit. “[Students] can use the grade from this to replace an exam,” he said. 

    He believes that the application of working with real people is more beneficial than just remembering information for a test. “Application helps with retaining skills and knowledge,” he said. He requires students who are choosing to mentor a student through a program such as the Lunch Buddies to keep a reflection journal on their own insights and questions. 

    Not only is this helping psychology students gain real life experience, they are making a difference in a child’s life in addition to helping them grow. “It gives these kids a sense of self-esteem and value,” Seabold said. “It gives them developmental assistance in a non-threatening way,”

    Seabold sees the impact of this mentorship in the way the kids look forward to meeting with their mentors. “They want their mentor,” he said. It makes other students who do not have a mentor also want one.

    When Boulgier first heard that participating in the Lunch Buddy program could be an exam replacement, she applied to be a Lunch Buddy through the Mallett Elementary School. “I didn’t hear [back] for four weeks,” she said. “I was very nervous I would have to take an exam.”

   Boulgier laughed and put her hands to her face as she explained her first encounter with a group of elementary school teachers. “I went to the second floor and instead of turning right, I went straight,” she said. “I walked past a room full of teachers.” She ended up having to interrupt a meeting to ask for directions to her buddy’s classroom. 

    When Boulgier finally met the student she would be mentoring, there was an instant liking to one another. “She’s adorable,” she said. “She’s like me when I was a kid.” 

    After the introductions, Boulgier and her buddy set out for the cafeteria to eat lunch, where they met more enthusiastic and eager Mallett students. “They were telling stories to me non-stop,” Boulgier said. “They were so excited and they kept talking about Minecraft.”

    At recess, the young girl led Boulgier around the playground to show her the slides and monkey bars. “You’re making bonds with kids, and they’re going to tell you everything,” Boulgier said.

    Instead of mentoring a student through the Lunch Buddy program, Saucier got permission to work with a young boy taking swimming lessons at the pool because it fit into her schedule better, and as she already a certified Water Safety Instructor. “It is very nice to take an hour a week and just separate from the world to work with a kid,” she said in an email interview. “He and his parents were some of my favorite people so they wanted to continue lessons and then we coordinated doing this project. He is one of the cutest kids I know.” 

    Saucier wants to be a good influence on the boy, and she appreciates watching him gain more confidence as she works with him on different skills. “He is super sweet and is so active. He is always happy and can always make himself laugh and I am fascinated by him,” she said. 

    To become a Lunch Buddy and learn more about the program, go to

UMF Senior Qualifies for New England Indoor Track and Field Championship

Abbie Hunt Contributing Writer

    Senior Katie Leblanc recently qualified for the New England Indoor Track and Field Championship in the 5k. At the beginning of the indoor track season, Leblanc was placed 28th nationally in that race. 

    Leblanc qualified for the championship at the team’s second meet of the season at the University of Southern Maine (USM). Both Leblanc and Coach Joseph Disalvo, who is no longer coaching at UMF, decided Leblanc’s goal for the season was to qualify for New Englands. The qualifying cut off time for the New England Championship is 18:50, and Leblanc ran her race in 18:46 at the USM meet. 

    She was close to qualifying at her first race of the season. She went into the race knowing she needed to run 45 seconds per lap (200 meters) to reach her goal. The 5k race is 25 laps around the track. Her initial goal was to qualify at USM, but both she and Disalvo were not expecting her to qualify as early in the season as she did.

     At USM, the 5k was her only event. She typically runs the 3k and 5k at meets, but she didn’t want to race both in one day. Leblanc remembered the 5k was the last event of the entire meet. “I was waiting all day,” she said. 

    Leblanc was focused on her first lap. “When I first started I was really focused because Coach [Disalvo] told me I went out too fast in the race before,” she said. Disalvo was at the 100 meter mark on the track to make sure she was running each lap at the right pace. The race was a mental game. After the first few laps, she was on her own. 

    Tabitha Lingar, another distance runner on the indoor track team, was there supporting Leblanc during her race. “I was extremely nervous and very anxious for her because she didn’t know if she’d be able to push herself enough that race,” said Lingar. “There were not many other competitors to push her. All of the girls at that meet were slower than her.” 

    Leblanc didn’t let the lack of competition slow her down. “I didn’t let myself get in my head,” she said.

    During the race, she listened to people around for motivation. Around the last seven laps of her race, her vision started going blurry due to a head cold, but she didn’t let that slow her down. 

    Lingar watched Leblanc’s whole race. “She booked it her last lap,” she said. Leblanc stumbled off the track and Lingar told her that she qualified.

    The first thing she remembered Disalvo and Lingar saying was, “you did it.”

    Assistant Coach Nickolas Shuckrow also watched Leblanc’s race. “She ran an amazing 5k,” said Shuckrow. “She ran a really tough race where she finished strong.” Although this is Shuckrow’s first season coaching the team, he found Leblanc to be dedicated. “I haven’t known Katie for very long but she is certainly deserving of the opportunity to go run at New Englands,” he said.

    At the end of the race she wanted to cry, as she tends to get emotional upon achieving her goals. It was all a blur of high energy for Leblanc the rest of the day, filled with support and excitement from her teammates who were looking forward to seeing Leblanc compete in New Englands.

    Leblanc does get nervous for races, but she always tries to remain positive. “Everybody who’s really good will be at that meet and some people are faster than you,” she said. “I get very nervous and I doubt myself which I don’t think is helpful.” 

    She recently finished the 5k again with a time of 18:35, beating her first qualifying time by nine seconds.

    The New England Indoor Track and Field Championship will be held on March 28 and 29 in Middlebury, Vermont.