By Rep. Mark Bryant
For many of us, the days since COVID-19 entered Maine have felt like an alternate reality. As with any transition in life, it’s important that we take some time to reflect on what’s changed, and to remember all the things that have stayed the same.
It seems we fast forwarded even further into the digital age in response to this virus. Our teachers are developing ways to connect with students through online conferencing, videos and emails. Mainers across the state gather around their televisions and computers each weekday at 11:30 a.m. to hear Dr. Nirav Shah, Director of Maine’s CDC, update us on the virus’ spread and our state’s response. And many of us are connecting with friends and family near and far through virtual dinners and gamenights.
Deadlines and processes for some of our most basic actions have shifted. Our state and federal taxes are now not due until July 15, 2020. We’ve been given extensions on drivers licenses, state identification cards, vehicle and boat registrations and more that expire during this time of crisis. And courts are delaying hearings and reducing hours.
Even when we’re outside, it’s all a bit different. While people are encouraged to be outside, they’re also encouraged not to congregate in large groups. To help with that, some of our state parks and beaches have closed. When we go to our favorite restaurants, we stay outside and wait for the staff to come out in their plastic gloves, ready to hand off our orders. And when we go out for a run, we take a six-foot detour around the people we pass.
All of these measures are designed to help keep us safe. In order to successfully fight this pandemic and keep our neighbors, our state and our country healthy, we are being asked to stay home. But for those of us who do not have homes, this poses a significant challenge. As people are laid off and businesses close, maintaining housing is only going to become more challenging. Here in Windham, our work ethic and sense of duty to our neighbors is shining through as we work to provide resources to folks feeling squeezed in light of some of these closures.
RSU 14 has agreed to work with General Assistance and the Windham Food Pantry to get free and reduced meal forms to students who are experiencing homelessness through our very own Backpack Program. This service is crucial to keeping kids healthy and safe during this trying time and helps parents and guardians who are coming up against financial hardship. The Clothes Closet is additionally stepping up to provide free clothing to community members. Medical Loan Closet provides residents with wheelchairs and other equipment for medical and physical needs. The Loan Closet is located on Windham Center Road next to the Library. Now more than ever we need to amplify the values all Windham residents share of community, support and grit so that we can get through this together.
In fact, Mainers across the state are exemplifying these shared values as they rush to sites like Maine Helps to find out where and how they can volunteer. Maine doctors and nurses are coming out of retirement to help our hospital and clinics address patient needs. People all over the state are calling seniors to see if they need errands run or a friendly voice to talk to. Put simply, every one of us is finding a way to help someone else.
So, as we look at all that’s changed, and as we grapple with how to approach this new normal, let’s remember one important thing: We Mainers have a spirit that will get us through anything, and that will never change.
Rep. Bryant is serving the Maine House of Representatives, representing part of Windham in House District 24. He is a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation and the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government. Mark.Bryant@legislature.maine.gov