By Jonathan P. LaBonté
Mayor of Auburn
As we approach the end of the calendar year, the practice of many is to reflect on the year that has past and think about the goals of the year ahead. For many families, looking back and looking ahead is filled with stress and uncertainty.
Just as I shared a few weeks ago, the holiday season, while meant to be one filled with thanksgiving and hope, often feels dark and hopeless for some local families.
It’s this community’s response to those challenges that gives me hope for the future and what we could accomplish if we worked together, neighbor to neighbor, and what I have seen the last week around our city has reaffirmed that.
First, it was seeing the dozens of pictures of our Auburn firefighters, members of the IAFF Local No. 797 completing their annual Truckload of Christmas. Every year, the men and women of our fire department fundraise through the year, culminating in the purchasing, wrapping and delivery by fire truck of presents to families throughout our community.
Whether it’s responding to an apartment fire, completing residential inspections or treating a patient on an EMS call, our firefighters see firsthand the struggles community members and their families face. A hardworking mom or dad can keep a roof over your head and food on the table, but struggling to put a few small gifts under a tree can really weigh on them.
Just seeing the first of many pictures the Local 797 shared on social media, with the big smiles not just on the faces of the kids but of the parents too, warmed my heart
Not long after seeing the work of our firefighters, I saw a post from a local resident and community volunteer/cheerleader extraordinaire Gisele Guerrette. I’ve come to know Gisele over the last couple of years, and her community spirit and activism is more than contagious. And I saw that front and center this past week.
She shared a series of stories on Facebook about the real-life struggles of a number of families in the neighborhood. She kept the identities private, but felt compelled to share what she sees as many people living on the edge, where just one financial hiccup (like a furnace going bad or an unexpected layoff) to put a family in a tight spot.
Not long after sharing, she posted an update. It appears many of those connected with her on social media were moved by the stories and asked how they could help. She quickly coordinated everything from a local business adopting a family for Christmas to another person offering to help fill someone’s oil tank.
For all the negative energy associated with social media, it was moving to see how it was used to quickly connect community in a meaningful, heartfelt way.
And in so many other places around Auburn and Lewiston, there are churches and community groups collecting dry goods for food baskets or soliciting gifts for young children by posting tags on Christmas trees in entryways.
If you find yourself feeling blessed this Christmas season, I hope you’ll consider reaching out to one of the many groups that can connect you with a family in need. Or you can take a lead from Gisele in building up Auburn by keeping a watchful eye on your neighbors and being an ear they can speak to when they are in need.