By Herb Weiss
Published in Pawtucket Times, January 3, 2015
Last July, long-time Rhode Island resident, John Martin, who filmed the 2013 web-based hunger documentary, “Hungry in the West End,” packed his bags and equipment to head off to rural Northern Maine. Martin, an AARP award-winning AARP filmmaker and AARP’s Communication’s Director, began filming a new short film to put a spotlight on the work of Dale Flewelling, to feed Maine’s hungry. The life-long resident of Houlton in Aroostook County, who founded the of Friends of Aroostock, a nonprofit agency, has worked for nearly seven years to provide fresh locally grown produce and emergency winter fire wood to low-income families throughout Aroostook County.
Maine AARP’s commissioned short film on Flewelling’s efforts, titled “With Friends Like These: Dale Flewelling & Friends of Aroostook,” profiles the retired businessman’s “passionate and charming crusade” to enlist friends, volunteers, leaders and businesses to help seniors in Aroostook and Washington Counties suffering daily from food insecurity.
After watching Martin’s short film (just over 11 minutes), it gives a simple message. By bringing together the community and working together we can put nutritious, fresh food on the tables of the nation’s needy. Creative ways of growing food, like at Aroostock’s farm, should be organized on farms throughout Rhode Island and the nation.
Yes, in hard times getting your hands dirty (by harvesting crops) rather than complaining may well be a simple solution to reducing hunger in America.
Stars Fall in Alignment
Looking back, Martin says, “Some things seem meant to be. There was a last-minute cancellation by a videographer who had been hired to shoot the film for our Maine State Office. In a bind, they turned to me, based on my, “Hungry in the West End,” he says.
Martin, a former Providence Journal reporter, says, “This was a dream assignment. The location was gorgeous. Overnight rained stopped right on cue. People were doing things more than talking about things, which is a lot better way of telling a story. I chose to follow Dale around during part of the day rather than sit him down for an interview. He is not big on sitting and, so, that may have been the best decision I made. And at the end of the day he insisted on loading me up with green beans, Maine potatoes dug that very afternoon, tomatoes and zucchini. How good is that?”
According to Martin, first impression of the town of Houlton was that of a community hit hard by the nation’s recent recession. “Last summer, no one was talking much about an economic recovery there,” he remembers. After an overnight stay at a trucker’s motel, Martin began his filming at Aroostook Farm at 5:30 a.m. “I was pretty shocked to see volunteers already at work picking string beans,” he says.
Martin notes that Flewelling is as charming in real life as he comes across in the film, observing that his work has added tremendous meaning to his retirement.
“It only occurred to me recently that I thought I was making a hunger film, but as far as AARP is concerned, it also is a great example of Life Reimagined – AARP’s resource for making life decisions, adapting to change and developing next-chapter careers,” says Martin, adding that Flewelling “personifies the benefits of identifying your “what next” opportunity and pursuing a dream.”
“He is so connected to the earth and growing food. You have to give him credit for finding a great place to focus his energy in his life after running a business,” states Marin.
“Also, for me the day at Aroostook revealed the great need the community faces,” Martin added. “In contrast to the urban poverty that frames the issue in the West End of Providence, here you find people who lived well for generations in rural Maine who are increasingly unable to meet their monthly expenses based on little or no personal savings and sometimes minimal Social Security benefits”.
But either way, these seniors are worried about outliving their resources, he says.
We Can Be Part of the Solution
“My conclusion after spending six months reporting in the West End [in Providence] was that government can do only so much; non-profits are helping as best they; but volunteers can make a huge difference. I hope that both Hungry in the West End and With Friends Like These sparks recognition that when you volunteer to help feed struggling seniors, the feeling you get back is a tremendous reward. We all can be part of the solution. And younger people, especially, need to pay it forward because some day they may be the ones needing help,” says Martin.
Dale Flewelling, executive director of the Friends of Aroostook, says “Generally speaking, a young organization such as Friends of Aroostook has to make a decision whether to utilize financial resources to build capacity or spend money on publicity and awareness. Like many, if not most, we choose to build capacity. To have John travel all the way from Rhode Island to Northern Maine and committing many hours and his talents to produce this film is almost overwhelming.“
“Words can’t describe the benefit this film brings to our programs. Friends of Aroostook and the hungry we serve own a heartfelt thank you to John, AARP Maine State Director Lori Parham and everyone at AARP who address the hunger needs within our less fortunate population, adds Flewelling, noting that this problem “is not going away. “But as you can see, people can make a big difference. So the film means a lot.”
Getting People Involved
“One of the results of Dale’s work at Aroostook Farm is that people see him in action out in the fields and better understand both the importance of the work and Dale’s ability to get people involved,” says Lori Parham, State Director, AARP Maine:
Parham says actually seeing people work the farm land makes it far “less intimidating” for those who might be reluctant to seek out or ask for help. “As the film shows, the neediest seniors are actually helping others – they pick a bag for themselves, and then pick a bag for someone else. We knew that capturing these images and sentiments in a short video would be a great way to illustrate Dale’s efforts to relieve hunger in Maine,” she says..
“John knows a lot about senior hunger and he is a great visual storyteller. We hope that the film inspires people from across Maine and other parts of the country to join in similar movements to engage entire communities and create a shared resource that, quite literally, can grow from season to season, notes Parham.
Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering Aging, Health Care and Medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@.