By Pierre Woog
Eastport is a generous place.
There is a constant buzz of acts of charity from fundraisers and appeals. Most contribute time or money through organizations and/or individually. Volunteering is a credo of this small city. We give to agencies devoted to do good works, be it the nursing home or the library or the arts or museums or the food pantry, churches, festivals and on and on. We give to individuals to lighten their burdens through food, heat or to be sure their young receive those special gifts they so deserve.
We also give in time of tragedy or personal challenges. We give to institutions we believe in whether they serve the greater good or help to overcome disease or injustice. We give for civic improvements.
We give. We know that charity begins at home and our home is those we love, it is those we know, it is those we care for. And yet.
On Aug. 12, 2019, 6-8 p.m., “Welcoming the Stranger: Downeast Cares” happened. It attracted about 100 people and it happened quite spontaneously.
A very few people, all Eastport residents, who sort of knew one another, got together and planned a fundraiser. Each did what was needed and what they could do well. They put together the event. They had no organizational structure, no hierarchy, no budget. They just did it and kept in touch, electronically mostly, so all were informed. Decisions were made by non-formal consensus. People differed in goals and strategies but it never became fractious. They just did it.
For Eastport, this event was absolutely stupendous. In this one evening the folks of Eastport, and surrounding areas, raised an unprecedented $10,000. This is a mind-blowing amount. What happened? What compelled this speck of a municipality to make such an awesome statement and do it so unassumingly, so quietly, so modestly, so non-contentiously? The money went to newly arrived refugees who had come to Maine.
They came from a place that was war-torn, disease ridden, where children were either killed, enslaved, or made to become killing machines themselves. They came from a place that imperialism had plundered and plundered and left in shambles. They came from a place rife with tribal and civil war that goes on and on. They escaped horror and somehow trekked over great distances, and great deprivations to be welcomed in Maine.
They came from the Congo. The Congo conjures, in our minds, images fed to us from infancy, a place so exotic, so toxic, so threatening, so other. The place of all the nasty racist tropes we associate with the “darkest” continent—Africa. They came to us as strangers, and just plain strange. But they really came to join us, to make a life, to raise a family, to contribute. And we in Eastport held an event to help them make the transition to one of us.
This was not charity begins at home. This was reaching out beyond our safe images.
It was a repudiation of racism. What compelled us? I believe there is only one answer. There is only one explanation for why we had this unequivocally successful event, an event done so quietly, so efficiently, so modestly; an event that rose above ourselves. I believe we were blessed and the event was therefore a blessing.
God bless Eastport.