Maine Acts of Kindness: Lending a Hand to the Homeless

Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment in an occasional series called the Maine Acts of Kindness, which highlights volunteer and philanthropic efforts during the pandemic.

From left to right, Deena Raef, dental student; Fahed Darmoch, a physician at Mid Coast Hospital; Joe Conroy, Senior Director of Food Programs and Operations at Preble Street; and Haya Raef, a medical student, unloaded 100 COVID care kits on Preble Street on Monday. The kits are filled with personal hygiene products for the homeless clients of Preble Street. Brianna Soukup / Staff Photographer

As the coronavirus outbreak swept across the United States, and Maine in particular, Haya Raef looked for a way to help.

While some of his classmates in the Maine Track program at Tufts University School of Medicine had started programs to help frontline healthcare workers, Raef and others sought to help the homeless.

They began assembling COVID care kits, a package of personal hygiene items such as soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, hand sanitizers, and facial cleansers for the homeless in Portland and Boston. They have donated 600 of the kits so far, 400 to the Boston Health Care for the Homeless program and 200 to Preble Street in Portland.

All items are donated by companies such as Tom’s of Maine, Mr. Boston Brands of Maine, Fabrizia Spirits, Maine Craft Distilling, and local dentists. The group will add face masks, donated by a company in California, into its next batch of care kits, which also include pocket puzzle books and hearing aids.

“We’re all a little frustrated that we can’t be on the front line with our mentors and teachers,” said Raef, a third-year medical student living in Portland. “We want to do the best we can to contribute safely … So we make sure that we can make a little difference in any way that we can.”

Tufts Maine Track program is for medical school students who intend to pursue a career in Maine. And those who are here want to make a difference in their community.

“I thought this was a very important project to be involved in,” said Sarah Bunting, a Scarborough High graduate who just completed her third year with a clinical rotation at Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington. “There is a fairly large socioeconomic gap between people who get COVID. And the homeless are the hardest hit by this. “

Raef’s small group of volunteers includes her husband (Fahed Darmoch, a physician at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick) and her sister (Deena Raef, a graduate of the University of Southern Maine and a student at Tufts School of Dentistry), along with with Bunting and his first year of medicine at Maine Track. student Olivia Fauver. Hospital officials in Portland and Boston are also lending a hand.

“We wanted to recognize our common humanity in this crisis and reach out to our neighbors who are not as lucky as we are,” said Haya Raef.

Joe Conroy, Senior Director of Food Programs and Operations at Preble Street, looks at one of the COVID care kits donated by Haya Raef and her partners Monday. The care kits will benefit the homeless population of the center. Brianna Soukup / Staff Photographer

The care kits were delivered to Preble Street on Monday.

“We have worked with Maine Track students before,” said Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street. “And we have had a great experience with them. So it’s no wonder they’re thinking of us and digging deep to help us. People who are homeless are extremely vulnerable to public health risks like COVID-19. Many are already immunosuppressed or dealing with multiple health problems.

“Gifts like these COVID kits help us meet the need and keep people safe. And the focus now is to make sure people are safe and sound. “

When Raef, 25, began considering care kits, she reached out to her mentor, Dr. Jennifer Tan, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Boston Health Care for the Homeless program. “We worked together to identify the items that would be most useful,” Raef said.

Raef sent emails to the companies that supply the products needed for the care kits. Tom’s of Maine donated more than 1,000 bars of soap, 500 mouthwashes, and many more oral hygiene products. Mr. Boston Brands of Maine donated over 500 hand sanitizers. Fabrizia Spirits, located in Salem, New Hampshire, donated 50 large hand sanitizers.

“It’s amazing how they responded,” Tan said. “We had some contacts through our work here, but we’ve also had the incredible spirit of local donors.”

Phil Mastroianni, co-owner of Fabrizia Spirits, said it was an easy decision to make a donation once you knew who the hand sanitizers were for. “There are people in need, so it made sense for us to do that for them,” he said. “That is why we want to support them.”

Matt Mayer of Tom’s of Maine, who has donated almost $ 500,000 Value of Natural Personal Hygiene Products in Fighting Coronavirus, He said: “We are very proud of the work that students at Tufts School of Medicine are doing in providing products to our local communities.”

Volunteers pack the care kits in their homes – “Social distancing,” Bunting said – and then they are delivered to shelters.

“In fact, we just put together several hundred kits,” said Bunting, who hopes to work in emergency medicine. “This ended up being a great project, much more than we expected.”

Are there people in your community who go out of their way to help others during the virus outbreak? If so, please send details about your efforts to [email protected]

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