NORWAY – Located within the Center for Ecology-Based Economics (CEBE) in Norway is Spoke Folks, a budding cooperative that supplies bicycles to the public. The vision for Spoke Folks began as a resource for local residents to transport waste and compost in a sustainable manner. Bicycles are available for people to borrow when the organizer is working towards the official launch.
Enter COVID-19, distancing social and the immediate fact that accessing comfort and simple needs is no longer possible for some people. Spoke Folks shift gears to meet the needs of the new community: delivering food to neighbors in need.
“We have this bike available, but it is suddenly unsafe for people to borrow and return it,” said Jessica Cooper from Spoke Folks last week. “We decided to use it for the community, and started voluntary food delivery to the environment around Norway. We reach out to local food pantry and restaurants and offer to deliver food to those who need shelter at home. “
The Spoke Folks mission on its Facebook page says the aim is to enable Norwegian / Southern Parisians to stay safe at home while still supporting local businesses and meeting their own daily needs.
Cooper and fellow volunteers / riders Scott Vlaun and Justin Bendesen launched the Spoke Folks shipment on March 20. They take several child carriers / cargo, strip them and then install them with food cooler. They have done a number of deliveries to sandwich shop customers such as Café Nomad, Happi Chicks, Norwegian Brewing Company and Ari’s Pizza and Subs.
More importantly, they partnered with a food bank to deliver food and fast food. During one day last week they brought food to 40 residents in a senior housing complex. Their work included two days of biking through spring nor’easter and finding that pulling a cooler full of food to the top of Pike Hill was not really possible.
“Food insecurity has become a challenge for Oxford Hills, and now it is even more difficult, with children dropping out of school,” Cooper said. “With Spoke Folks, we can send food from the food bank to as many families and locals as needed.”
After Governor Janet Mills issued a statewide mandate for Mainers to stay home for all important work and local restaurant needs saw a decline in take-out orders. Cooper said that the pause for Spoke Folks was brief, because the Fare Share Co-op reopened on Monday morning and added to local shipping requests.
“Fare Share has been opened,” confirmed the cooperative manager Zizi Vlaun. “We are building an online shop on our website. Customers can order and pay online. We offer curbside pickup, or people can choose to use Spoke Folks as their delivery. “
Vlaun said that there is a minimum order of $ 20 for the purchase of Fare Shares.
“This week we open Monday, Tuesday and Saturday,” he said. “Then next week we will open on Tuesdays and Saturdays only, from noon to 4 pm.”
Fare Share closed March 20 after learning that someone who was in the store tested positive for the corona virus. Vlaun said that the store had been completely cleaned up and staff took all precautions to protect themselves, products and customers from future exposure. Partnering with Spoke Folks has provided another layer of security.
Cooper said that Spoke Folks, along with CEBE, was taking steps to overcome the old view of food insecurity. They plan to continue making food shipments even after the current public health crisis has passed, including the future harvests of Alan Day Community Garden.
“The time is now,” Cooper said, about the opportunity that CEBE and Spoke Folks had to drive change towards sustainable living and returning to society. “It’s hard for people to imagine a city where people ride bicycles instead of driving. We have a tendency to look for comfortable options and lose contact with the experience of wind or rain or sun on your skin, and the physical strength needed to drive a bicycle and bring yourself somewhere.
“This is why I am very happy to do this job, it changes my reality from jumping in my car every time I need something from the grocery store or to get to the end of Main Street. I can get there as fast as possible with my bicycle, but I also do something positive for our city. Even more so when I bring food to people I know really need. “
But cycling to serve the community is not as simple as riding a bicycle. Cooper said that Scott Vlaun gave him the “rules of the road” training before he began filling the Spoke Folks cooler.
“I haven’t ridden a bicycle since I was much younger,” he said. “I’m happy and nervous. And it feels amazing for the past week to ride the rain alone after riding Scott the previous week to learn about bicycle signaling and safety on the road.
“It was refreshing, it even rose in the rain, and gave me the much needed rest time not to be at home. I feel it is a privilege to be on a bicycle at a time like this, even with cars that pass my bicycle and trailer, even with spray tires on wet roads and rain that trickles into my helmet into my face. It makes me appreciate the opportunity more when I ride a bike on a sunny day. “
Spoke Folks delivery is a voluntary service available to every resident within three miles of Main Street, Norway. To schedule a shipment, people must send an email [email protected] or contact the CEBE office at 207-743-2101.
Cooper said they now have a bank of six bicycles for the road and the group is happy to answer questions for anyone interested in volunteering for future projects.