2012-11-23 / Front Page

A time for sharing

As need increases, so does the giving
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer


Project G.R.A.C.E. Executive Director Steffi Cox (left) and volunteer Donna Beeley look over a collection of gift baskets full of food that was handed out this week to families in need in Scarborough. (Michael Kelley photo) Project G.R.A.C.E. Executive Director Steffi Cox (left) and volunteer Donna Beeley look over a collection of gift baskets full of food that was handed out this week to families in need in Scarborough. (Michael Kelley photo) Steffi Cox just started as the executive director of Project G.R.A.C.E (Granting Resources and Assistance through Community Effort), but already she feels the important role the organization plays in helping those in need in the community.

“If people know there is a need in the community and they can help with that need, they step up,” Cox said. “Scarborough is very generous. We look after our neighbors.”

This giving attitude was seen earlier this week when volunteers met at St. Maximilian Church on Black Point Road to put together Thanksgiving baskets for Scarborough residents who are struggling due to the economy.

“The need is great and it is growing,” Cox said. “While the economy is improving for some families, there are still many families that are behind and are struggling.”


In the last two years the need for help around the Thanksgiving holiday has more than doubled for Project G.R.A.C.E. In 2010, the organization handed out 40 food baskets. This year 90 baskets, feeding close to 300 people, have been prepared. (Michael Kelley photo) In the last two years the need for help around the Thanksgiving holiday has more than doubled for Project G.R.A.C.E. In 2010, the organization handed out 40 food baskets. This year 90 baskets, feeding close to 300 people, have been prepared. (Michael Kelley photo) As of Monday, Nov. 19, 90 baskets had been made up to help more than 300 people. Last year, Project G.R.A.C.E. provided for 223 people by filling 57 Thanksgiving baskets. In 2010, 40 baskets were put together.

“In two years we’ve doubled the number of families we can help in the community,” Cox said.

Since 2000, Project G.R.A.C.E. has been providing food, money and supplies to the needy in Scarborough. The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas remain one of the busiest times of year for the organization.


Project G.R.A.C.E. volunteer Ann Marie Albert puts together a gift basket of food for a Scarborough family. Aside from traditional Thanksgiving food, the baskets include pasta, pasta sauce, canned fruits and vegetables, cereal and peanut butter. (Michael Kelley photo) Project G.R.A.C.E. volunteer Ann Marie Albert puts together a gift basket of food for a Scarborough family. Aside from traditional Thanksgiving food, the baskets include pasta, pasta sauce, canned fruits and vegetables, cereal and peanut butter. (Michael Kelley photo) “This is the hardest time of year for many people, especially those families with kids,” said Ann Marie Albert, a retired social worker who spent some time Monday morning putting together gift baskets.

Cox said each family who receives a basket is matched with a volunteer who specifically buys items for that family’s basket. All the matches, she said, are confidential.

“We put out calls to people in the community to ask them to provide a basket to a family in need. Meanwhile we also put out a call to families we know are struggling because they utilize some of the other services we provide to see whether or not they would like a basket,” Cox said. “It is voluntary to participate. We also get references from nurses at the schools or from other social service organizations, or sometimes it is a neighbor who refers a family.”

While each basket is catered to the needs of the individual family it is going to, there are some holiday staples in each and every basket.

“The typical basket has all the typical things you would expect for Thanksgiving – stuffing, gravy, beans, mashed potatoes, bread, fruit, pies,” Cox said, adding each basket also gets a gift card so the family can purchase a turkey or ham, depending on what they want as the dinner’s main course.

Cox said the baskets also include other food items, such as pasta and pasta sauce, so the family can have food on the table after the Thanksgiving holiday passes.

“This epitomizes the mission of Project G.R.A.C.E.,” said Jim Elkins, a longtime volunteer who chairs the granting resource committee. “To identify (these) families in Scarborough that need assistance and hopefully have a better Thanksgiving because of our efforts, that’s something that motivates me.”

This year students at two area elementary schools did their part to help make the holiday a happy one for Scarborough residents in need. Kindergarten students at Blue Point Primary School in Scarborough made a collection of handmade placemats for each basket.

Through the leadership of Linda Paul, a Scarborough resident and kindergarten teacher at Pond Cove School in Cape Elizabeth, students at the school held a food drive for Project G.R.A.C.E.’s Thanksgiving basket efforts.

Donna Beeley, a Project G.R.A.C.E. volunteer, said the program would not be successful without the volunteers, young and old, who put in countless hours and resources into preparing the baskets.

“What’s amazing to me is the donors in Scarborough. I am so impressed by the people who come forward for this, often in the last few days before Thanksgiving, who want to help, who are willing to provide for a family or who bring in a check or a donated food item,” Beeley said.

“It is the nicest group of people I have ever met,” said Albert, who has been volunteering with Project G.R.A.C.E. for the last three years. “I worked in social work before I retired so it was easy for me to get involved with something like this. I love it.”

Being involved in the project, Beeley said, has made her aware of how great the need is in town, not just around Thanksgiving, but all year round.

The kind acts, she said, do not go unnoticed by those families in need. Beeley said in August during the backpack program in which volunteers fill backpacks full of school supplies for school kids, Project G.R.A.C.E. introduced a thank you table where backpack recipients could write thank you notes for the backpacks and school supplies.

Beeley said doing so helps to make sure each donor gets a personalized thank you from the family they provided for.

With the Thanksgiving holiday now passed, Project G.R.A.C.E is already preparing to provide families with toys and food for Christmas.

Beeley said 65 families have already signed up for the program.

“Project G.R.A.C.E. does so many great things throughout the year. They don’t just do the gift baskets,” said Maureen Weeks, a Scarborough resident who spent part of Monday morning organizing Thanksgiving gift baskets. “They do so many things that really help those in need.”

Cox said Scarborough residents looking for help for themselves or someone else can get in touch with Project G.R.A.C.E online at www.projectgracemaine.org or by calling 883-5111.

“The need is increasing out there, that is for sure, but so is the willingness to give,” Cox said.

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