Fine dining, fundraising in Auburn

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AUBURN — This was not your ordinary benefit supper. Instead of cafeteria trays and warmed-up casseroles, there were elegant tablecloths and silverware wrapped in cloth napkins. Instead of harsh gymnasium lights, there were candles and soft lamps placed strategically.

More than four dozen people were seated and they were dressed to the nines. Ties and sport coats for the men, dresses and gowns for the ladies. It was a gala affair at Edward Little High School, but there was more going on than epicurean delights.

The community dinner was scaring up money for the Lunchbox Fund, a nine-year-old program that brings food and clean water to the orphaned and vulnerable children of South Africa. The fundraiser is simplicity itself, in spite of the elegance of the affair.

“Kids die of hunger over there,” said Jake Bazinet, an EL student representative. “The first time I heard about it, I wanted to do something. It inspired me to start something that can help.”

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Bazinet, with guidance from teacher Jennifer Braunfels, has been doing all sorts of things, actually. Recently, it was a pie-in-the-face contest to raise money for the same cause. Next comes a student versus staff basketball game with the same goal.

In developing countries, Bazinet said, “four children die every eight seconds. That really hits home for me.”

Friday’s dinner wasn’t only about raising money. It wasn’t only about food, either It was also about information. While the patrons had their multi-course dinner, Bazinet told them about things like the Lifesaver bottles, which can make dirty water drinkable. There was a Skype session with Topaz Page-Green, founder of The Lunchbox Fund who spoke from Africa to the people of Auburn.

In South Africa, 65 percent of all children live in poverty, according to the Lunchbox Fund. Receiving food and fresh water may allow those children to stay in school and continue their educations. It helps them avoid disease. By establishing relationships with schools and childhood development centers, the fund has been able to provide more than a million meals each year to those in need.

Auburn was certainly doing its part. Each diner paid $5 before being seated. A rich variety of items and services were raffled to raise more cash for the cause. Those items and services came from businesses across the area.

“The community has really helped us out,” Bazinet said.

And what a way to help a worthy cause. At the dinner, prepared by students in the Franklin Alternative School’s science through cooking class at the Lewiston Regional Technical Center’s Green Ladle, there was chicken Alfredo and salad. There were apple crisps and blueberry cake and chocolate cupcakes with cherries. There was lemonade and punch and pizza, if you wanted to go low-brow.

Mostly there was ambiance. A pair of musicians — Tony Morin and special education teacher Matt Closson — played their guitars softly off in a corner. Candles flickered over men, women and kids in their Sunday best.

“I didn’t know it was going to be so formal,” said Auburn School Superintendent Katy Grondin, as she fretted over her sweater.

She looked fine. Everybody looked fine. Jim Downs even bought a bright pink tie to match his wife’s shawl. The EL band room, with its mood light and music to match, felt like the kind of place where people wait hours for a table.

And like a fine restaurant, there were greeters at the door and frantic people rushing everywhere, trying to make things right.

“Where’s the ice?” Braunfels wondered, as the last diners were being seated. “Sarah, you’re going to have to go down and get more serving spoons.”

Ultimately, it was a success. For Bazinet, who also works with the Dempsey Challenge, it was just one step in the unending process of helping, although he passed most of the credit along to his classmates.

Once they got going on the project, there was no stopping them, he said.

“The students really took flight with this.”

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