AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci is hosting a spaghetti fundraiser in Portland on Wednesday night on behalf of an agency that helps the homeless in Maine’s largest city.
Baldacci is holding the spaghetti dinner at the Italian Heritage Center to raise money for the Preble Street Resources Center, which provides hot meals and other services for the homeless.
The proceeds from the dinner will benefit Preble Street’s Homeless Voices for Justice Program. The effort comes after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland withdrew $50,000 from the center, saying it violated a grant agreement with the diocese by supporting same-sex marriage on Maine’s “No on 1” campaign last fall.
For some, it’s quite personal.
“I have a brother who’s homeless. My heart goes out to them all, and any donations at all that they can receive,” said Susanne Conley Higgins.
“I believe in justice and equality,” said Kai Meyers, 6. She said her mother said it’s important she knows the issues.
“We’re here for the principle. It’s the principle that they couldn’t get the funding in one way, so darn-it they’ll get it another way, and I love it, it’s great,” Sandra Horn said.
“To take money from them is like taking food out of their mouth, and to me, that’s ridiculous and that’s not what religion — I don’t care if you’re Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, whatever — that’s not what people are about,” said Suzanne LaCroix, a Catholic.
“People are upset. They see the Catholic Church as taking money away from poor people. It is very important to understand the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the state,” said Sue Bernard, a spokeswoman for the diocese. “We actually help more disadvantaged poor people than any other charitable organization in the state.”
Since the diocese revoked its funding, the center has received $40,000 in donations from around the world, even from as far away as Australia.
Baldacci said that during tough economic times it’s more important then ever to support Preble Street’s efforts.
“The church was within its rights and they exercised those rights. So, there’s no issue with the church and what the bishop has done. At the same time, though, I think we have a sense and responsibility to make sure that the services for homeless people are protected and that they have the support that they need,” Baldacci said.
By 6 p.m., the center was packed with people and volunteers. Mark Swann, executive director of the Preble Street Resource Center, expressed his gratitude to more than 900 people who showed up to support and donate.
“It hit an emotional chord with a lot of people and a spiritual chord,” Swann said.
Donations came in all forms and people gave what they could. There was no word Wednesday night on how much was raised.
Baldacci’s family owned an Italian restaurant — Momma Baldacci’s — in Bangor and he has used spaghetti dinners to his advantage on the campaign trail. In 2005, he held spaghetti dinners to raise money for Hurricane Katrina’s victims and for a retired state trooper who was stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease.