Neha Kumar of Bar Harbor has been awarded the Elizabeth Fritz Thorndike Award for her service to the Mount Desert Island community. PHOTO COURTESY OF MAINECF

Neha Kumar receives Thorndike Award



BAR HARBOR — Neha Kumar of Bar Harbor has been honored with the 2022 Elizabeth Fritz Thorndike Award. The award, managed by the Maine Community Foundation (MaineCF), honors an individual who has made outstanding contributions to community service on Mount Desert Island. 

Kumar, a senior financial analyst at The Jackson Laboratory, serves on the board of directors at Acadia Family Center and is a volunteer mentor with the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute. She is also an advocate for racial justice, women’s rights and climate change solutions on MDI. 

As part of the award, Kumar granted $2,500 from the Elizabeth Fritz Thorndike Fund at MaineCF to both the Jesup Memorial Library and Bar Harbor Food Pantry.  

Established in 1992, the Thorndike Award honors Betty Thorndike, a long-time resident of Bar Harbor who served in many capacities in her community as a volunteer, board member, Town Council member, patron of the arts and friend and neighbor to many. The Thorndike Award is awarded every two years to a community member who embodies Thorndike’s spirit.  

Previous Thorndike Award winners include Harriette Mitchell, a nurse and social services volunteer; Nan Miller, an equal rights advocate; civic leader Jan Varnum; MDI Hospital volunteer Anna Ryan; and Nancy Howland, former Jesup executive director. A committee of island residents selects the recipient for the award. In the years between awards, the committee recommends grants to organizations that serve MDI. Sixty-nine grants totaling $72,256 have been made since 1987. 

Kumar emigrated to the United States from Uttar Pradesh, India, 20 years ago, and missed the cultural celebrations of her home country. Since then, she has made a point to welcome those new to her community with gatherings, celebrations and – most importantly – food. 

Kumar moved with her family to Bar Harbor in 2014 where she has cooked and hosted meals for the immigrant community and organizes grocery runs to Boston for hard-to-find ingredients for subcontinental cuisine. “It provides a sense of community even though we are far from home,” Kumar said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted families on MDI facing food insecurity. The importance of food to Kumar and her culture is why she sought to award funding to the Bar Harbor Food Pantry. 

“No family in our community should go to bed hungry,” she said. 

“Once-in-a-lifetime inflation, along with unprecedented gas prices, have drastically increased the need for the Bar Harbor Food Pantry’s services, while personal giving has scaled back for the same reasons,” said Tom Reeve, the pantry’s executive director. “This will help fill in the gap and allow us to continue to offer fresh, healthy foods to our Hancock County customers.”
The Jesup has played an important role in the Kumar family’s life. The library hosts speakers from The Jackson Laboratory and is the home base for Girls Who Code, a club spearheaded by Kumar’s daughter Sirohi, a 2022 MDI High School graduate. 

“The Jesup is a great resource that provides a place for people of all ages who want to learn and grow,” Kumar said. “It is a focal point of Bar Harbor and impacts so many people.” 

The library will earmark its Thorndike grant to support children’s programming.  

“It means a lot to see someone who does so much for the community recognize the Jesup,” said Lila Miller, the library’s advancement and community relations director. “The Jesup wants to make learning accessible for everyone in the community in every stage of life.” 

To learn more about MaineCF, visit www.mainecf.org. 

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