MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — With Mainers being urged to stay home to prevent the spread of coronavirus, many people are connecting online. The internet has been used over the past few weeks to connect people socially, as well as to needed services, education, church, and exercise and art classes.
This is not an option for everyone. Latest figures from the U.S. census show that 11.6 percent of households in Hancock County have no computer, and 21.5 percent of households have no broadband internet. These figures were tallied between 2014 and 2018.
For those who cannot go online to get the services they need, help is a phone call away. “That’s what we deal with on a regular basis,” said Jennifer Sheaff, Community Outreach and Programs Coordinator at Eastern Maine Area Agency on Aging. “We work with people who are not computer literate, or who live in remote areas where there’s no access.”
The call-in resource center is open to help people who are elderly or who have a disability. “We get calls regularly from folks,” Sheaff said. Often a person will be looking for help in one area, such as transportation or help with shopping, and by the end of the call they’ll be connected with other services they didn’t even know about, she said.
Sheaff said one program that has seen a lot of growth recently is Meals on Wheels. “A lot of people who were not considered homebound before coronavirus now are considered homebound,” she said. “We’ve had lots of referrals.”
Sheaff also said she has seen a lot of “grassroots efforts, a lot of churches” stepping up to help people in need. “It’s unprecedented times,” she said. “The biggest moral of the story,” she continued, is for people to call and ask for what they need. Likely the help is out there. The Eastern Maine Area Agency on Aging can be reached at 941-2865 or 1-800-432-7812.
Jessica Stewart is helping to organize one of the grassroots efforts Sheaff mentioned. The information and support organization MDI Community Response has a website, but they also take referrals by phone at 266-0919, Stewart said.
Volunteer services provided include shopping, and daily check-in calls. People can sign up to receive services or volunteer; and Stewart said she has a lot of volunteers signed up. “More people are ready and willing to make calls,” she said, “than would like a call.”
Another calling check-in service is operated by the Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Police Departments. The “Good Morning Program” is open to senior citizens in Bar Harbor and Mount Desert. People sign up through the Mount Desert Police Department (276-5111).
A Dispatcher makes daily calls to all participants each morning between 9:00 and 11:00. “If we don’t get them on the phone, then we dispatch an officer to go to their home, said Officer Ken Mitchell of the Mount Desert Police Department. Home visits are rare, however, Mitchell said. Usually people answer the phone or call the department themselves if they know they will be away from home.
The program started about four years ago, Mitchell said. “Some people have been on the program a long time and have a great rapport with the dispatcher that calls them,” he said. “It’s a great program. The people that are on it really like it.”