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Lewiston has received an outpouring of donations after mass shooting. Here's where they're going

Football fans display a placard to honor those killed or wounded in the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, Oct. 25, 2023, and to show support for the community of Lewiston, and those who lost friends, family and loved ones, while standing in the stands prior to an NFL football game between the Washington Commanders and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Michael Dwyer
/
AP
Football fans display a placard to honor those killed or wounded in the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, Oct. 25, 2023, and to show support for the community of Lewiston, and those who lost friends, family and loved ones, while standing in the stands prior to an NFL football game between the Washington Commanders and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass.

Upon hearing a mass shooting in Lewiston had taken place, Jeanette Andre began reaching out to donors.

"We had a call on Thursday that was shared with very short notice," said Andre, the president and CEO of the Maine Philanthropy Center. "That had around 34 [or] 35 individuals representing [donor] organizations."

Many people have been eager to donate to nonprofits in the Lewiston-Auburn region since the mass shooting on Wednesday, Oct. 25, that left 18 people dead and 13 more injured. In the flurry of good intentions and generous giving, the leaders behind these charity organizations are figuring how best to distribute the funds to have the largest impact.

Two challenges face the Maine Philanthropy Center and other nonprofits: First, meeting the immediate needs of victims, such as hospital bills and funeral expenses and second, addressing the trauma itself left by the shooting.

"I spoke with the executive director at the United Way of Sandy Hook in Connecticut," said Joleen Bedard, executive director at United Way of Androscoggin County. "They're still supporting people with counseling services, and that happened 11 years ago."

That’s in part why the Maine Community Foundation has created two separate response funds: one specifically for victims and their families, and the other for broader recovery efforts in the region. MaineCF president and CEO Deborah Ellwood stated the victim’s fund will begin being disbursed within a few months. The broad recovery fund will probably take longer.

"We will be enlisting someone who has worked with a number of other communities to help them determine what sort of protocols there are for disbursing the resources for the victims," said Ellwood.

There have been 585 mass shootings in the U.S. this year according to the Gun Violence Archive. The high frequency of violence has created a grim playbook for charities and community organizers to follow after mass shooting events. Ellwood said MaineCF will create a local steering committee to advise on responding to specific Lewiston needs — such as the loss of four members within the city’s deaf community.

Beyond nonprofits, donors are also contributing through crowdfunding sources like GoFundMe. The Lewiston campaigns featured on GoFundMe have raised well over $1 million so far. Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey advises discretion when vetting sources accepting donations.

"Unfortunately, time and time again whenever you have a tragedy like this, or a natural disaster," Frey said, "we see scammers pop up."

Frey warns with most crowdfunding campaigns, it is the responsibility of the individual campaign organizer to make sure donations actually go to the stated cause. Frey advises would-be donors should avoid unsolicited requests from entities they don’t recognize. Additionally, they should avoid paying by cash or by wire services like Western Union.

"These are not ways in which established charities are likely to be requesting money," said Frey. "Pay by check, pay by credit card. Legitimate organizations are going to have these ways of contributing that folks should look for."

Frey recommends donors use the resources located on the website for Maine’s Consumer Protection Division. Additionally, the governor’s Healing Together website suggests legitimate organizations accepting donations — including those charities featured in this story.

"Any size gift has an impact," said Joleen Bedard of United Way. "If anyone’s wondering if they their gift of $50 or $100 is going to make an impact: yes, it will.

Nick Song is Maine Public's inaugural Emerging Voices Fellowship Reporter.


Originally from Southern California, Nick got his start in radio when he served as the programming director for his high school's radio station. He graduated with a degree in Journalism and History from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University -- where he was Co-News Director for WNUR 89.3 FM, the campus station.