Progress Center auction raising funds for needy residents

PARIS— Online bidding for an auction to raise money to bring free meals to needy and disabled individuals and families is underway.

Hosted by the Progress Center’s Community Kitchen, the “Beat the Blahs” auction features donated items from across the community; from tickets to Shawnee Peak and the Clanmore Mountain ski resort, gift certificates to 76 Pleasant Street, Maurice’s Restaurant, and T.J. Maxx, to signed books from author Tim Greaton, deals at Ambiance and Element Day spa’s, as well as tickets to the Portland Orchestra, the Portland Stage Theater.

According Priscilla Burnette, public relations official at the Progress Center, local businesses jumped at the oppurtunity to donate.

“Many businesses recognize the continual need and this is one way to help make a difference,” Burnette said.

“This is a neighbor helping neighbor effort,”  she said.

The Progress Center has helped families and individuals with mental disabilities for more than 40 years, serving  250 individuals and families in 49 communities and four counties.

All proceeds from the auction will aid the Oxford Hills Community Kitchen with operating costs and  purchasing food from the Good Shepherd’s Food Bank. Burnette estimated the Norway center serves upwards of 180 meals a week at its location, 35 Cottage Street.

The group would like to raise $600 through the auction, Burnette said. Most of the listed items have a $50 value though some – like two ski tickets for to Shawnee Peak valued at $86 and two tickets to the Portland Symphony Orchestra $180 – are worth more.

Bidders will receive email confirmation of their high bid as well as notification if someone else places one greater. The winner will receive email confirmation and details on how-to collect items are posted on the auction site. The auction runs until Feb. 5.

Though not the first, Burnette said this auction is one of the largest organized on by the Progress Center.

“We’re very grateful for the community, for those who’ve donated items,” she said.

The kitchen offers two dining blocks; first and third Thursday evenings from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m., and the second and fourth Tuesdays, during lunch, from 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Meals are free though donations are welcome, Burnette said.

In midst of the economic downturn in 2008, employee Liz Blaquiere urged for a community kitchen to serve free meals, prompting the group to begin serving free meals twice a month in space rented at a local church.

Demand ballooned in the following months as they went from serving 40 meals a week to 125. Realizing that increasing the capacity of the operation to aid more and more people, the Progress Center began a three year fund-raising project that eventually garnered $240,000 in private contributions as well as state and federal grants.

The group used the money to renovate space in the Progress Center and install a modern, commercial kitchen with space for food storage and seating for 200. The first meals in the new location were served in October 2011.

The scope of the auction was ideal for the fundraiser, Burnette said, as it was small enough to be hosted online for free which maximizes the money going to those who need it the most.

The group is currently seeking more items.

The kitchen is also available for rent for public use, Bernette said, who uses it for classes and group functions.

Bids can be submitted at www.32auctions.com/ProgressCenter.

For more information on the auction or the Progress Center, Burnette can be contacted at 207-743-8049, ext. 266, or by email at priscillaburnette@progresscentermaine.org.