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  • By Darcie MooreTimes Record

Local companies rally to help nonprofits

Jim Howard of Priority Real Estate Group is offering $5,000 challenge grants to organizations serving the most vulnerable during pandemic.

BRUNSWICK — Local real estate developer Jim Howard has enlisted the aid of local companies to help nonprofits that work vulnerable residents in the southern Midcoast during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Howard, CEO of the Topsham-based Priority Real Estate Group, has offered to match $5,000 raised by Oasis Free Clinics, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bath/Brunswick and the Brunswick Area Teen Center. Priority also is purchasing 1,000 lunches from Sam’s Italian Foods for the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and Tedford Housing in Brunswick.

Priority is working with the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber, Bill Dodge Auto Group and Rusty Lantern Markets to invest $8,000 promoting restaurants and businesses that are open and serving customers in Topsham and Brunswick.

“Our concern is that there just isn’t going to be enough resources, no matter what, to help everyone,” Howard said. “The people you’d normally turn to need resources themselves … so anything we can do to help them is great.”

Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program will receive meals from Sam’s Italian Food. She estimates they are providing about 150 meals a day from the soup kitchen and about 50 families a day come through the food pantry on the days it’s open.

“It really does help the organization knowing there’s five days where lunch is taken care of, so that’s a tremendous help,” Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program `Executive Director Karen Parker said.

The aid comes just in time, as Oasis Free Clinics in Brunswick sends its summer appeal for donations.

“It’s a really great time for us to capitalize on a match,” said Anita Ruff, Oasis’s executive director.

Oasis provides primary care, dental and mental health care, free prescription assistance, among other services for people without insurance. It serves about 500 people in the Midcoast. The medical clinic will reopen June 1, but the dental clinic will remain closed until August.

“We anticipate that we’re going to see a surge of people who experience unemployment at higher rates,” Ruff said. “There is lots of news about people losing health insurance at higher rates so we are preparing for an increase at our medical clinic.”

Oasis had to cancel a May fundraiser due to the pandemic, as well as its 25-year anniversary gala fundraiser in September. Yet to sustain their services, “we have to raise money.”

Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Bath/Brunswick pushed its April Bowl for Kids’ Sake fundraiser for the fall and is struggling to stretch its budget through the summer. Howard’s $5,000 matching grant will help. The nonprofit matches adult and teen mentors to children who are primarily from single-parent and low-income households.

“Our two program-based staff members are still reaching out monthly to have conversations with every volunteer, with every child in the program, and every parent or guardian,” MacDonald said.

Another $5,000 matching grant goes to the Brunswick Area Teen Center to feed kids, a key part of their program.

Since schools closed to students in mid-March, kids have been able to get free breakfast and lunch through the Brunswick School Department. Jordan Cardone, the teen center coordinator, said Thursday those free meals are expected to end the week of June 14. When those meals stop, the teen center plans to provide a bagged meal for kids over the summer.

The more money the teen center can raise, “the more food we can provide and to a larger number of kids,” she said.

When the coronavirus reached Maine in March, Howard said businesses were facing a two-week stay-at-home order that grew to two months. As businesses start to open gradually under Gov. Janet Mill’s plan for restarting the economy, Howard said they worry whether customers will come out. The Community Matters program is designed to make people aware that businesses in Topsham and Brunswick are opening.

“Let’s support them,” Howard said.

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