A Lewiston small business has stepped up in a big way by helping local families deal with the impacts of a global health crisis.

The Healing Community MEDCo, a purveyor of an extensive line of top-shelf medical Cannabis and Cannabis products, is leading a community-wide effort to provide $100 in weekly grocery gift cards to a number of local families struggling financially as a result of State mandates protecting public health and safety in the face of COVID-19.

The effort began with a series of conversations among MEDCo’s leadership team, which includes Operating Manager Alex McMahan, Operating Manager and Edibles Production Manager Joey Johnson, and Master Growers Joe Couture and Terri Wentworth.  Deemed as an essential business early on in the State’s response, the MEDCo founders wanted to do something to help those less fortunate.  

“We realized we’re lucky to be in an industry that has been less affected,” says McMahan. “We started talking about ways we might be able to spread some of our good fortune, while challenging other businesses to do the same.”

Within a week, the MEDCo team had devised The Healing Community Food Challenge. With a plan now in place, McMahan began to search for families in need by connecting with many of the area’s top social service agencies. With the help of Joline Bedard, Executive Director of the United Way of Androscoggin County, McMahan soon forged partnerships with leaders at Safe Voices, the YMCA and YWCA.

“They search their programs for families who are experiencing difficult times due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and when they find a candidate, they ask for permission to pass their contact info on to me,” McMahan explains.  I reach out to the family contact and establish the relationship,” says McMahan. “I explain the Challenge and take down some information that we use to get them their gift card. I contact them again when we’re doing the drop-off, and after that, they go on the calendar for us to contact again in a week.”

In order to raise the sponsorships needed to support the program, McMahan reached out to Shanna Cox, President and CEO of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. 

“The Chamber is the direct line to the community leaders,” explains McMahan. “The Chamber is also able to manage donor relations in a stellar fashion, and use their name and voice to help get the word out so we can attract more sponsors.”

“The LA Metro Chamber’s mission is to build, lead and thrive. This effort was a great way to build community, support our businesses in leading on a crucial effort, and allow our community members impacted by COVID-19 to thrive” says Shanna Cox, President and CEO. “Throughout the last two months, so many businesses and organizations have adapted to fluid circumstances and pulled together to support businesses and each other. It has been amazing to see the response”. 

To date, businesses and individuals who have sponsored families include Casco Bay Food & Beverage, ABC Pools & Spa Center, City Side Motors, The Vault, State Representatives Kristen Cloutier and Bettyann Sheats, State Farm agent Lisa Laliberte, Darby Ray, Heidi Taylor and two anonymous donors. Just this week, Androscoggin Home Health Care & Hospice supported five families.

In addition to spearheading the program, MEDCo has itself donated more than $4,500 to the effort so far. McMahan says that before long, he expects that total funds raised will exceed $10,000. “It’s amazing to see so many different types of business come together to make a real impact,” he says.

The final piece of the puzzle was logistics. Naturally, it was again MEDCo that took the lead.  With multiple vehicles and drivers at their disposal (MEDCo makes dozens of deliveries a day to retail and wholesale customers throughout Central Maine and across the state), MEDCo was ideally positioned to become the last link in the chain to area families most in need. 

McMahan and Joey Johnson have made several deliveries of gift cards themselves. “It’s been pretty amazing,” says McMahan. “People sometimes get teary-eyed when I first reach out to them. There’s such genuine appreciation. We often get thank you cards from the families.”

MEDCo and its community partners intend to push on for as long as the need exists. “Our initial plan was to continue until the State of Civil Emergency is lifted,” McMahan says. “At this point, it’s tough to say. We’re going to play it by ear, and see how it goes.”

Businesses and individuals who would like to make a donation to the Healing Community Food Challenge can do so by visiting the LA Metro Chamber’s website at https://lametrochamber.com/2020/04/01/the-healing-community-food-challenge/