December 21, 2013

Waterville mayor plans cash mob to help homeless

Karen Heck has asked donors to join her at the Mid Maine Homeless Shelter Monday to boost donations.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — Mayor Karen Heck is planning a cash mob to boost donations to the Mid Maine Homeless Shelter on Monday.

The idea of a cash mob, in which individuals show up en masse to support a locally owned business by buying things, is a new one; but it’s catching on quickly, with news agencies in more than 30 states reporting instances of the phenomenon since 2011.

Typically, organizers use social media channels to ask supporters to show up with a set amount of money, often $10 or $20, to boost an area business.

In this case, Heck said she is introducing a twist to the idea by boosting not a business, but a homeless shelter, with donations of any size.

“There are people sleeping on the floor because there’s so many of them and it’s so cold out,” Heck said. “When you have a 3-week-old baby at the shelter, what does it say about our society?”

The shelter currently houses 20 children and 40 adults, according to Heck.

This isn’t the first time a cash mob has been used to help a social cause or make a political statement in Maine. Last year, a group of cash mobbers walked past about two dozen anti-abortion protesters outside a Planned Parenthood in Portland to make donations to the clinic.

Usually, however, cash mobs are strictly feel-good events, with no associated controversy.

Over the past several months in central Maine, people have gathered to spend their money at an art-and-gift store in Palmyra, and a farmers’ market in Gardiner. The Augusta Downtown Alliance organized weekly cash mobs during the holiday season last year.

On Monday, Heck plans to be at the shelter at 10 a.m., but she said people can make donations at any time throughout the day, in person or on the organization’s website at www.shelterme.org.

People also can donate healthy food or household items.

Heck said her goal is to close a $6,000 funding gap that will allow the shelter to fix a broken elevator.

“They have been trying to finish their campaign to raise money for the elevator, and that would allow them to use the second floor,” Heck said.

She has spread the word by sending emails and Facebook messages to others in the community.

“I think there are a lot of people in this town who want to help, and who want to be a part of helping people get out of poverty,” she said.

Heck has used Internet fads such as this to spread a message for social change in the past. In June 2012, she was among of group of 30 participants that went “dancewalking” through Waterville, performing dance moves to music as they walked down Main Street. At the time, Heck said the activity promoted exercise and community.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287 mhhetling@centralmaine.com Twitter: @hh_matt
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