WESTBROOK, Maine — The My Place Teen Center has been a safe haven for young people in the Westbrook area; so when schools were closing their doors back in March, the volunteers at the non profit knew their kids and their families would be severely impacted.
While they, too, had to close their doors, staff opened a mobile food pantry on March 16th. They served 50 meals the first day. By the end of that week, they were serving up to 250 meals a day.
"Very quickly we realized not only would we be serving the kids but we would be serving the families," explains CEO Donna Dwyer. "We thought within a day or two, let’s just serve the whole community because we thought that the whole community might be hurting; that includes people who are elderly, people who have disabilities, people who all of a sudden lost their jobs and would be scrambling; and we wanted to make sure pandemic philosophy was to serve anyone, any age, from anywhere, no questions asked, no paperwork, just really employ a lot of dignity and respect and care for anyone who needed a meal."
My Place Teen Center has been open for 22 years; serving children from 10 to 18-years-old. When the pandemic hit, staff knew their children - and their families - would be suffering a lot of loss in their lives.
"We thought that not only if we feed them and provide for those basic needs, but if we get out on the road and provide daily wellness checks and let the kids know that we were still here," says Dwyer about the mobile pantry. "We made tons of phone calls, we did tons of Zoom meetings, and what-not. We knew that we needed to continue to still be in their lives on a daily basis."
To make all of that support happen, staff started working even longer days. Despite working harder; the funding became more difficult to find. Dwyer estimates MPTC is facing a loss of more than $300,000.
"Our funding streams dried up, we have been called to do way more because of the crisis," says Dwyer. "Think about it for a minute... when a crisis occurs where do people go? They turn to their local nonprofits for help. And so the irony is we’re working 60-70-80 hours a week every single week, and at the same time our funding streams are dried up, and yet people need us more than ever. So it was really a conundrum."
Staff at the My Place Teen Center is now looking at filling the 2021 fiscal budget. If you'd like to help or just learn more; click here.