Volunteer Sue Blaisdell, right, helps youngsters address To/From tags on gifts for family members during a past YWCA annual Children’s Christmas Bazaar. This year the event will be held Dec. 12 with a new format that practices social distancing and COVID-19 safety guidelines. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

COVID-19 prompts change in holiday volunteerism

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND  As winter approaches and COVID-19 cases around the state surgethe need for holiday volunteers for most organizations around the island has decreased.  

Two weeks ago, GovJanet Mills, citing the rise in cases, implemented an executive order limiting the amount of people per 1,000 square feet inside of public buildings to five. After these limitations were announced, organizations that once relied on dozens of different community members to help during holidays gatherings and activities decided to rethink their events and volunteer needs. 

When asked if volunteers were needed for the association’s annual Children’s Christmas bazaarBar Harbor YWCA Executive Director Jackie Davidson said, “we would normally, ordinarily need volunteers, but because of the new circumstances, we’ve been doing everything different, which includes denying prospective volunteers.” Usually the YWCA requires many helpers to wrap and distribute gifts to families in need, but because of the current situation, they have implemented safety measures, which in turn will require less volunteers for its Dec. 12 event. The organization suggests that those people who would typically volunteer contribute instead to their cause. 

The need for help at local food pantries typically increases around the holidays as food is collected and distributed. But, with an increase of people comes an increase of risk that both the Bar Harbor Food Pantry and West Side Food Pantry in Southwest Harbor are not willing to take. The Bar Harbor Food Pantry’s website states, “in order to comply with crucial social distancing measures, we are not accepting volunteers at this time.” Instead, the staff from both pantries encourage those who usually give their time to give food or monetary donations. 

The town of Mount Desert and the Maine Seacoast Missionwhich usually deliver gifts from the Sunbeam to Mount Desert, have also implemented several changes to their holiday celebrations that no longer require any volunteers. According to Chaplain Douglas Cornman, the Mission and town staff will be doing all the work for the December events. The town that once encouraged volunteers to assist with decorating will now be draping Christmas lights and hanging ornaments themselves. “We’re afraid to ask for volunteers this year because of the pandemic,” said Mount Desert Chamber of Commerce Director Micki Sumpter. Although volunteers are not permitted, the town of Mount Desert recommends that people donate money, gift cards and gifts to the Maine Seacoast Mission charity to help those in need this holiday season. 

Though many organizations are not accepting help at this time, Bar Harbor’s Open Table MDI is currently looking for volunteers to help serve food at their to-go community cafe. All volunteers need to provide negative COVID-19 test results and attest that they have not traveled out of state two weeks prior to helping.  

Those who are interested in learning about the volunteer policies of specific local organizations ahead of the holiday season are encouraged to contact the establishment directly. 

Ninah Rein

Ninah Rein

Writer at Mount Desert Islander
Ninah Rein, an MDI native, covers news and features in the Bar Harbor area. She is glad to be back in Maine after earning a bachelor's degree in San Diego from the University of California.
Ninah Rein

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