SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Live music played on the second floor of the Legion Hall here Saturday night while Sandy Gray, standing over a hot stove on the first floor, passed warm food off to runners to add to the spread upstairs.
“We brought our food in at 4 (p.m.), got the flow going and then the food started coming in and it didn’t stop,” said Gray about donations from the community.
Five long tables were lined with casseroles, pasta, salads, rolls, cold cuts, roasted chicken, pies, cookies and much more food than could possibly feed the folks who showed up to support local Coast Guard members affected by the 35-day federal government shutdown that ended Friday.
The event was spearheaded by Carla Minctons and Annie Harper, among others. As of Monday, Minctons reported the event raised $7,000 that was expected to be deposited into an account opened at First National Bank on Main Street called Neighbors Helping Neighbors. In addition, members of the community donated more than 300 gift and gasoline cards to be dispersed among families of members serving on the local military base.
Members of the Coast Guard and their families were invited to eat at the Saturday event for free.
“We live in such divisive times right now,” Minctons said. “It’s so amazing to see people come together like this.”
Her late husband, Dave, was a fisherman, and her sons also work on the water. “We need these guys,” she said about the members of the Coast Guard who had worked most of the month without pay.
Earlier on Friday, President Donald Trump announced the partial government shutdown would end for at least the next three weeks. An end to the longest government shutdown in the country’s history made for a more jovial atmosphere than may have been the case without the intervention.
“Although there is a great sigh of relief, there’s also nervous tension,” said one wife of a Coast Guard member, who agreed to speak anonymously.
Her family has been in Southwest Harbor for the last four years and she works in a public position in the community. Over the last three weeks, while at work, she had been asked by people over and over what they could do to help her and other families of the Coast Guard.
“We are extremely overwhelmed with the donations, the support, the friendliness and the love being shown towards us,” she said.
A resident of Coast Guard housing, this wife said her family’s landlord understood why rent couldn’t be paid. It hasn’t been as straightforward for others enlisted who are living outside of the government housing.
“Those that are living ‘on the economy,’ they’re struggling more,” she said, the term used for Coast Guard members who rent from private landlords. Those members have had to provide documentation from the station where they work to explain to landlords and creditors why they couldn’t pay.
She said a pantry has been set up on the base located at the end of Clark Point Road, where neighbors have been dropping off donations of food and supplies. The Southwest Harbor Food Mart has made donations as well.
“A lot of times we don’t see what our spouses do,” said the wife of the Coast Guard member. “We don’t know what they do so we don’t know how much they do for the community.”
Bud Williams coordinated entertainment for the event, which included performances from eight area bands. “I put the word out there and within 24 hours I had all the people I needed,” he said.
There was also a silent auction at the community event. Another five tables were lined with handmade jewelry and crafts, as well as gift certificates to local restaurants and businesses, even a sheet to offer a bid to enter the MDI marathon.
U.S. Congressman Jared Golden, who represents Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, stopped by the event to show his support.
Gray and other volunteers opted to close the kitchen down at 8 p.m., even though the event was scheduled until 10 p.m. Dishes full of food still lined the tables on the second floor. Fewer people were coming back to refill their plates, but there were to-go boxes available for whoever wanted to take some home, especially the families from the local military base.
“We’re going to give as much of the leftovers we can to the Coast Guard families,” Gray said. “This how a small community does it. We just kind of come together.”