MILLINOCKET – Assistance for workers and others affected by the 37-day shutdown of bankrupt Great Northern Paper Inc. is coming from all over Maine.
“I’m just so overwhelmed to see so many people come together,” said Herbert Clark of Millinocket, a 38-year GNP employee and union official. “It almost brings tears to your eyes to know so many people care and to know you aren’t alone. We all have the same goal and that is to get these mills up and running, getting people back to work and on their feet again.”
Clark admitted that some people were really struggling. “This is all new for most people,” he said. “They have always taken care of themselves and never had to have anyone take care of them. It is difficult for them to adapt to this change. They want to provide for their own families.”
GNP employees who have not seen a regular paycheck for a month are trying to survive on unemployment benefits of between $272 and $282 a week. Once they pay their family health care insurance of $181 a week, many aren’t left with much money to provide for their families. The extremely cold temperatures during the last few weeks have left many worrying about running out of fuel.
While several local churches, various agencies and some individuals are doing all they can to assist people affected by the shutdown, some are concerned that they may run out of money or food if the shutdown lasts for several months.
Meanwhile, a variety of fund-raising efforts by dozens of groups and individuals across the state are under way to help everyone affected.
Karen Geraghty, former Portland mayor and city councilor, hopes to raise a minimum of $25,000 to provide assistance to anyone affected by the Great Northern shutdown.
“One Maine” is the name of Geraghty’s fund-raising campaign. “We are all part of the same state and if something happens in one part of the state, other people in other parts should try to help them out,” she said. “People just really want to do something to help.”
Geraghty said people in the southern part of the state have been very concerned about what is happening in the Katahdin region. “People here were saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, this would be like Maine Medical Center or Unum shutting its doors one day,’” she said. “People were trying to grasp the magnitude of this.”
A giant fund-raising party featuring the Shriner’s clowns and a musical performance by Speaker of the House Pat Colwell’s band will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, at the Portland Expo building.
Geraghty is raising money from sponsorships. She is soliciting companies, large law firms, hospitals, the Maine Chamber of Commerce, L.L. Bean, and the cities of Westbrook, Freeport, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth to become sponsors. The city of Portland is donating use of the Expo building.
“There will be no overhead costs and no administrative expenses,” Geraghty said. “Every single dime that people donate will be sent straight up to Millinocket and East Millinocket.” Anyone interested in donating to the “One Maine” fund-raiser should call 761-8376 or Portland City Hall at 756-8178.
Terry and Barbara Baker of Aurora, Ill., are making a personal donation to help GNP’s displaced unionized workers. “Hey, they are our brothers,” said Barbara Baker in a recent telephone interview. She recently spoke with Jay Nadeau of Howland, president of UBCJ Local 1612 at Great Northern. She has posted information about the plight of GNP’s unionized workers on the Illinois union’s Web site in hopes other locals will make donations. Her husband is a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners Local 916.
On Friday, McCain Foods USA of Easton delivered a tractor-trailer load of frozen potato products to the Katahdin region. Its sister company, McCain Transport, provided free delivery of between 700 and 800 cases. “We are sympathetic to their situation and wanted to help,” said a spokeswoman.
As part of its campaign to end hunger, the Maine Credit Union League is donating $2,500 to five organizations in the Katahdin area: the three town offices and I Care Ministries in Millinocket and The Tri-Town Baptist Church in East Millinocket.
“Eating should not be a choice,” said Jon Paradise, the league’s spokesman. “If there is any food in the house, many parents will forgo eating in order for their kids to have a semblance of a dinner. People of this region clearly need our help.”
Mark Young, the vice president and general manager at WABI-TV, Channel 5, in Bangor, said the station is planning a couple of initiatives to stimulate local business and to stimulate donations of food, heating oil or fuel and electricity to assist residents of the Katahdin region.
The Maine AFL-CIO has established a relief fund to help GNP’s displaced unionized workers. Ed Gorham, president of the statewide federation of labor unions, has made an appeal to between 150 and 200 local union chapters across the state.
Gorham said Mead Westvaco has set up a four-week payroll deduction program whereby employees can donate to help GNP workers. The company will match all contributions. Mead has already donated $5,000 to the Good Shepherd Food Bank for future truckloads of food.
Gorham said Iron Workers Local 96 union in Clinton is working on a bulk oil purchase.
At Domtar Industries Inc.’s Woodland mill, unions are raising funds to help GNP union workers. Domtar is making a $5,000 donation to help with fuel assistance.
The Millinocket-based weekly newspaper, the Katahdin Times, is sponsoring a free community supper for GNP employees, their families and others affected by the shutdown. It will feature a hot turkey dinner with all the fixings and entertainment. It will be held from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2, at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church.
“It is to lift people’s spirits,” said Diana Daniels, the paper’s editor and general manager. “With everything people are going through, we thought this would be something positive.” She said several area businesses, a church and some individuals have provided donations for the supper.
The Katahdin Valley Health Center, located in Patten and Island Falls, has opened its doors to everyone, including GNP workers and retirees concerned about health care. The nonprofit federally qualified health center offers health services at reduced prices and offers free prescriptions to those who qualify. Federal funding allows the center to offer services at lower rates. There are 28 such centers in Maine. Officials at the center have met with GNP union leaders and say they are willing to speak to any groups interested in their services.
Area churches providing donated food are I Care Ministries in Millinocket, 723-7977; St. Andrews Episcopal Church, beginning Feb. 7, 723-5893; the Tri-Town Baptist Church in East Millinocket, 746-2211.
Churches providing fuel and emergency assistance are: St. Martin of Toures in Millinocket, 723-5902; and the First Congregational Church in East Millinocket, 746-5575. Fuel companies from Patten to Millinocket have reduced prices to help the churches stretch available money for fuel.
The Rev. Richard Malo of St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Millinocket said the church used $15,000 from its savings last week to provide fuel for people who were getting low. He made an appeal to the three churches he serves and was able to raise $30,000 in five days. “As cold as it was, people had urgent needs,” he said. About 125 families were served last week alone.
Malo said a mailing was made to 130 Catholic churches in Maine this week asking for assistance. The bishop’s office has provided the services of Catholic Charities Maine to help with some of the administration to set up an online offering.
“This is a crisis,” he said. “The situation is going to continue, likely for a few months.” He said if another cold snap hit, the church had only enough money for fuel for a few days.
St. Peter’s Catholic Church in East Millinocket is helping people with electricity bills by working with the utility to establish payment plans.
Three Catholic parishes, St. Martin of Tours in Millinocket, St. Peter’s in East Millinocket and St. Benedict’s in Benedicta, have established a new program called “Adopt a Family.” The churches are encouraging families who can to adopt a family and help them with heat, energy and basic telephone service costs.
Pastor Mark Pilletere of the First Congregational Church in East Millinocket said the church has served more than 30 families. He said the church was holding its own funds for fuel. The church used $1,000 from a fund it had before the shutdown and has received numerous donations from individuals across the state.
The Howland United Methodist Church food pantry is providing food for affected GNP employees from the towns of Howland, Enfield, Maxfield, Seboeis, Burlington, Lowell, Passadumkeag, the Olamon section of Greenbush, Edinburg and Medford. Rather then spending money to travel to Millinocket or East Millinocket, Bruce Hallett said workers and others affected by the shutdown who reside in the Howland area could go there. People needing assistance may call 732-3589 and leave a message or call 732-4514. Regular hours are Thursdays from 7 to 11 a.m.
The bulk of displaced workers reside in the Millinocket, East Millinocket and Medway area, but union officials estimate that about 35 percent of GNP’s 1,130 employees reside in communities from Houlton to Bangor and Abbot.
The Great Northern Paper Workers Relief Fund has been set up at the EastMill Federal Credit Union, account No. 8014-71. Donations can be mailed to 60 Main St., East Millinocket, 04430-1128.
Mark and Lisa Legassey of Brunswick and formerly of East Millinocket will collect food next weekend in Brunswick and deliver it to people in the Katahdin region.