April 15, 2010

Baldacci steps in where church declined

BY DENNIS HOEY

PORTLAND -- The line outside the Italian Heritage Center just kept getting longer, as people waited for plates of spaghetti covered in sauce made with Gov. John Baldacci's family recipe.

At one point, organizers of the supper to benefit Preble Street estimated that more than 400 people were standing in the parking lot outside the center.

By night's end, Baldacci and an army of volunteers had served spaghetti dinners to more than 900 people.

Baldacci decided to hold the spaghetti feed after learning last month that the Catholic Church had withdrawn funding for Preble Street's Homeless Voices for Justice program because of Preble Street's support for same-sex marriage.

Amy Bruning, the social service agency's finance director, said it would take at least another day to calculate how much was raised by Wednesday's event because the donations varied so widely -- from the suggested $5 to personal checks for $100 to $500.

"This (turnout) is a wonderful compliment to the work Preble Street does," Baldacci said during a brief break from serving spaghetti. "The bishop was within his rights to do what he did, but I saw a need and decided to step in to fill the void."

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and the Washington-based Catholic Campaign for Human Development say that Preble Street violated its grant agreement by supporting Maine's No on 1 campaign last fall.

No on 1 opposed a ballot proposal to overturn the new state law legalizing gay marriage. Voters approved Question 1 on Nov. 3.

Homeless Voices for Justice lost $17,400 for this year and will lose $33,000 that it expected for its next fiscal year. All of Wednesday's donations will go to the statewide advocacy group, which works on issues that affect the homeless.

"It has been very humbling," said Mark Swann, Preble Street's director, during the fundraiser. Donations from around the world have been pouring into Preble Street, he said.

The governor's wife, Karen, served punch to help with the dinner.

"It's the right thing to do," she said, "and I am a Catholic."

"What looked like a tragedy has turned into a blessing," said Mark Hayman, a former homeless person who is an advocate for Homeless Voices.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills bused tables Wednesday night. A former waitress, Mills applauded the community for its support.

"This sort of event brings out the best in people," she said.

Baldacci's staff said the governor started preparing the sauce last week, with some help from the chef at the Blaine House.

The recipe for the sauce, a closely guarded secret, is the one that was used at the Baldacci family restaurant, Momma Baldacci's in Bangor. The restaurant closed about 18 months ago.

Ed Bushey, a longtime friend of the governor, was in charge of the kitchen operations.

"We made 70 gallons of sauce and 103 pounds of spaghetti, with plenty more spaghetti to cook if we run out," Bushey said.

Even Italians in the house were impressed.

"It's wonderful," said Gianna Floyd, who came to the United States from Italy in 1954.

Floyd and her friend Henrietta Marino, both of Cape Elizabeth, said they came to see the governor, support Preble Street and relive memories of the time they spent dancing at the Italian Heritage Center with their husbands -- both of whom have died.

Frank Bellino of Standish and his wife, Joanne, said they are rethinking their commitment to the Catholic Church.

"I don't think what they did was the Christian thing to do," Bellino said.

"What happened with Preble Street, for me, was the last straw," his wife said.

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