The annual Hearts and Hands for Haiti benefit dinner will take place at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, at 380 Academy Hill Road in Newcastle, on Friday, Nov. 3 at 6 p.m. Begun in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 Haitian earthquake, this dinner will mark the eighth successive year Lincoln County residents have come together over a festive Haitian meal — this year prepared by the Newcastle Publick House — to remember and pledge support to those who are most in need in the northwest Haitian town of Gros-Morne.
Initially, the focus of assistance was destitute refugees fleeing the effects of the earthquake in Port au Prince. But over the years, the focus of the fundraising has shifted to projects targeted at bringing social and economic opportunity to the poorest residents of the town.
The 2016 dinner raised a record sum to support a microfinance program involving distribution of goats to poor women, to provide uniforms and books to poor elementary students who would otherwise have gone without, to repair school roofs and pay some teachers’ salaries, to provide scholarships to the neediest children, and to continue support to the indigent elderly. These priorities are determined by an ecumenical Friends of Gros-Morne committee in Gros-Morne that supervises the projects and accounts for funds expended.
The Friends of Gros-Morne group has asked that funds from this year’s dinner be allocated in a similar, but slightly different, manner. The microfinance training project for women who received goats was a resounding success and has now been taken over largely by a Caritas-supported agronomy training center just outside Gros-Morne. However, there is a desire to expand the program to provide more goats and, critically, to establish mobile veterinary clinics to provide health care for the goats and to teach the women owners about good goat health. The Friends of Gros-Morne group has also asked that monies again be provided for school books and uniforms. While tuition in most elementary schools is free, uniforms are required and parents must pay for these. Similarly, schools do not provide books; they must be purchased by each student.
The Friends of Gros-Morne group has also asked dinner participants to consider funding hot, nutritious lunches for elementary school children. Especially for the very poor, this may be their only nutritious meal of the day. Extraordinarily, these lunches can be prepared for only $1 per student per week. The cost is kept down by focusing on local and seasonal products and by buying in bulk. For variety and nutrition, the basic beans and rice are supplemented daily with fresh tomatoes, sweet potatoes, okra, cornmeal, and collard greens and/or nutritious moringa leaves.
John Bottero of Thomaston Place Galleries will again join the dinner as master of ceremonies. As the price of locally procured goats has risen this year, the dinner will be seeking pledges of $75 to provide a goat and a veterinary package to a needy woman. The pledge for uniforms and books will remain the same as in 2016 — $10 and $5, respectively. The school lunch program will be based on a school term of about 35 weeks, so a pledge of $35 will provide a child with a nutritious meal every day for the entire term.
The annual dinner has over the years funded a number of projects at the large, private San Gabriel School for Girls, with about 800 students. This year, the school is adding a seventh grade and has asked for help with scholarships for girls whose families cannot afford the tuition of $120 per year. The dinner committee has decided to devote money raised by the host committee to this purpose. To become a member of the host committee at $120 for an individual or a couple, contact dinner co-chair Dean Curran at 380-5103. Members of the host committee will receive two dinner tickets.
Tickets for the dinner are $30 for adults ($35 at the door), and $15 for children, and are available at Sherman’s bookstores in Damariscotta and Boothbay Harbor, at Treats in Wiscasset, and at Skidompha Library in Damariscotta, and from members of the dinner committee at the following churches: St Patrick’s Catholic Church, St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Newcastle, St Giles’ Episcopal Church in Jefferson, St. Denis Catholic Church in Whitefield, Wiscasset Congregational Church, and Second Congregational Church in Newcastle. To donate, volunteer, or get more information, call 563-1931.