By Ramona du Houx

March 22, 2021

On Martin Luther King (MKL) Day, Rockland residents were challenged to fill ever seat at the Strand Theatre, on Main Street, with bags of donated food to alleviate the suffering of community members. Knox county has the fourth highest food insecurity in Maine. The need for assistance has increased two-fold during the pandemic.

Billed as FILL THE STRAND the event immediately became a tremendous success, as the seats were filled three times over.

The restored Strand Theatre, that shows classic and philosophical/human interest movies of merit, working with Area Interfaith Outreach Food and Energy Assistance (AIO) held the fundraiser on January 18, 2021.

“While the pandemic has temporarily closed the doors to the theater, the work of the Strand carries on in new and creative ways — and this effort was no exception. As a community mainstay, it made absolute sense for the Strand to partner with other deeply-rooted community institutions, AIO & Allen Insurance & Financial, to provide an extra lift to our friends and neighbors in these difficult times!” exclaimed Jessie Davis, The Strand Theatre’s Executive Director.

Donations were made with social distancing protocols in place, drop off community locations were set up starting last December, and finical donations were welcome. AOI’s goal was to raise $10 thousand. In the end they took in $24 thousand and 2,000 pounds of food.

“This event shows how remarkable and compassionate our community is. Imagine a mid-winter community event in Maine during a worldwide pandemic. Odds were against us meeting our goal. Instead, we exceeded the goal three-time over and collected one-ton (over 2000 pounds) of food. And then, volunteers came together to bring the food to the food pantry, do proper intake, and put to food onto shelves for distribution as soon as the very next day! It was an amazing accomplishment by a truly amazing community,” said Joe Ryan, Executive Director, AIO Food & Energy Assistance.

For many having bags of food fill the seats of the popular theatre gave them hope that the seats will again be occupied in better times. It also gave solace and a ray of sunlight for community members who wish to help others in a positive productive way.

“It made me feel I was really participating as part of my community,” said Lee Heffner. “it gave me hope.”

MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service. Traditionally it encourages Americans to volunteer to improve their communities. This unique, fundraiser might signal other towns across the state, and nation, to emulate it. More days of community service could help build the bonds of living in small towns and cities.

Beloved theaters like the Strand serve important roles as anchors for small communities. AIO provides nutritious food and heating assistance to Knox County families. The event was supported by volunteers from local businesses. 

Allen Insurance and Financial, and Main Street Market both served as collection sites for the community to drop off food. Local churches as well as the University of Maine at Rockland held their own food drives at their respective locations. 

About the Strand Theatre: 

Built in 1923, the theater presents films, live performances, family programs, and community events. Due to the pandemic, the theater’s doors have been closed for almost a year; during that time, it has reinvented and reimagined ways to serve its community and safely use its theater space, such as offering the stage as a venue for socially-distanced after-school programming. Most of the Strand’s current programming is online, though last summer a live outdoor concert and a series of Drive-In movies were presented. Strand Theatre website:

About AIO Food and Energy Assistance

For over 30 years AIO has provided nutritious food and heating assistance to Knox County families. Funding and access to AIO’s programs are more critical than ever as food insecurity in Knox County is projected to increase 46 percent overall. Child food insecurity is projected to reach 28 percent (a 52 percent increase). Since January 1, AIO has supported 1547 individual households and has distributed 290 meal kits each week during the school year. AIO’s Energy Assistance Program helps households with heating assistance or electrical disconnection prevention – which is critical as winter begins. Last winter AIO distributed 450 energy assistance vouchers, totaling $108,000 in support. The need for assistance is real and is not going away anytime soon given the ongoing pandemic. AIO Website: