GOULDSBORO — It was just over a month ago that Hurricane Matthew barreled through the Caribbean and up the Atlantic coast causing perhaps 1,600 deaths and billions of dollars in damage.
While the people of Haiti suffered the greatest death toll – more than 1,000 are believed to have perished in the flooding and mudslides caused by the Category 5 storm – North Carolina suffered at least 28 deaths. That was the second highest toll anywhere. The state also suffered damages, primarily from flooding, estimated at some $1.5 billion.
The storm was big news right after it hit on Oct. 8, but politics soon overwhelmed everything else in the news cycle, and until election night, North Carolina was pretty much forgotten.
But not by members of Maine’s marine worm digging industry.
While the storm’s damage was still being tallied, the Independent Maine Marine Harvesters Association organized a campaign to collect food and other necessities to ship to North Carolina.
By Oct. 17, worm buyers from several shops between Milbridge and Woolwich had set up collection boxes for nonperishable foodstuffs such as canned fruits, vegetables, meat and soup, pasta, brown rice, dried beans, cereal and peanut butter. Also on the list were items such as infant formula and cereal, diapers, baby wipes and healthy snacks for kids.
By early last week, the collections from Anderson Marine & Hardware in South Gouldsboro and six worm shops – ER Baits in Hancock, Back Bay Bait and Striper Bait in Milbridge, Hink’s Bait and Wiscasset Bait and Phil Harrington Bait in Woolwich – and from Pepper’s Pub in Ellsworth had been delivered to the Gouldsboro Enterprise bait shop on the shore of Frenchman Bay to be packed up for shipment.
Last Thursday, bait shop manager Jean Carlos Castillo-Perez and his assistant, Daniel Juan Garcia, had a dozen cartons – 600 pounds in all – ready and waiting for pickup by the same Fedex truck that collects the bloodworms and sandworms the shop ships to distant buyers, including bait shops in North Carolina. The precious cargo will be delivered to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina in Raleigh, then distributed among six local food banks in the state.
This is the second major charitable effort organized by Maine worm diggers this year.
In September, they contributed more than $1,000 to the Salvation Army for its local back-to-school assistance efforts. There is a local connection with North Carolina, too.
The Carolinas are one of the most important markets for Maine bloodworms, Gouldsboro Enterprise owner Boumans said. “These are our customers and our friends. It only seemed right to send support to the communities that have supported us for generations.”
Waiting for the truck to come on Thursday, Fred Johnson, president of the Downeast wormers chapter, added a practical note to the food drive effort.
“They’re our customers. If there ain’t a hook in the water down there,” he said, “we ain’t got a market.”