AROOSTOOK COUNTY, Maine — These days U.S. Border Patrol agents are at heightened alert for people trying to enter the country illegally, but they are also taking the time to volunteer and help their neighbors in need.
Agents are handing out USDA "Truck to Trunk" food boxes and gallons of milk to hundreds of people who drive up for help. This specific food assistance program serves rural community members in Aroostook County.
Catholic Charities of Maine was tapped to help hand out much-needed food boxes from the USDA, which is part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to provide relief to communities in need across the country.
An effort happening because of the hard work of volunteers, including Border Patrol agents.
Dixie Shaw is the director of Hunger and Relief Services for Catholic Charities of Maine. She said they came up with a great program to help neighbors.
"With most senior citizens remaining in their homes, Catholic Charities partnered with U.S. Border Patrol agents who – in addition to their other duties – were willing to spend some time helping the communities in northern Maine," Shaw said.
Shaw explained the need has been great, at each distribution site there are long lines of people in cars waiting to get the food boxes. Since the program started last year, more than 60,000 boxes have been distributed.
“They move the boxes of food from the delivery trucks to the trunks of our clients’ cars. People don’t have to get out of their cars," Shaw said.
"It's a phenomenal opportunity for the public who we serve and protect on a daily basis, from anyone coming into the country illegally to harm this country or circumvent illegal means to come into the country, for the general public to see us in a different role, in a humanitarian kind of role, helping out," Jason Schneider, acting chief U.S. Border Patrol in Houlton, said.
"Here we have all these Border Patrol agents in the area that are all young, and capable, and able-bodied, so they've been helping us," Shaw said.
Each 30-pound box includes protein, fruits, fresh produce, dairy items, and a gallon of milk.
There are no age limits and no income guidelines to receive a box. If you need one, you get one. You just have to do the line.
"Giving back to our community, I think that's equally important of the mission of the U.S. Border Patrol, protecting the citizens of this country," Chief Schneider said.
The fast-paced effort is happening in several strategic locations in Aroostook County.
"And when you see those long lines in every single town you go to, that tells you the tremendous need," added Shaw.
"Let's just say that I skip the gym that day because you are lifting thousands of boxes, but it's for a great cause, honored to be a part of it and just to see the smiles on the recipients' face," Schneider said.
Next Wednesday, February 24, the "Truck trunk" team will be handing out the last 1,000 boxes allotted for the month of February in Houlton at Saint Mary's Church's parking lot.