Pasta dinner helps support Lena, Mason, Christian Foundation

GIRARD — Cindy Michael did not make it to the 12th annual spaghetti dinner supporting the Lena, Mason, Christian Foundation on Saturday.

Michael, the founder of the annual fundraiser and grandmother of two boys killed in a Girard fire in 2005, was in the hospital receiving treatment for a noncancer-related illness. Michael was diagnosed with cancer more than two years ago.

“The fact we’re having this is a testament to the volunteers — some who have worked with us for years — and the community that we’re able to sell nearly 400 spaghetti dinners,” Ken MacPherson, Michael’s husband, said.

All of the food and the 50-50 raffle gifts were donated to the foundation.

Hundreds of people went through the Fraternal Order of Eagles Hall, 26 W. Wilson Ave., on Saturday to buy a meal and to talk to old friends they don’t get see all of the time.

The foundation honors the lives of Michael’s two grandsons, Mason Cross, 5, and Christian Pizzulo, 1, who died with their mother, Lena Cross, 22, in a house fire Sept. 14, 2005.

An autopsy later showed that Lena Cross was stabbed to death prior to the house being set on fire. The children died of smoke inhalation.

Since that time, Michael and MacPherson, as well as dozens of friends and neighbors, have worked to turn their personal tragedy into a positive cause.

The couple raises money — primarily through the spaghetti dinner, auction and raffle held annually on the day before the Super Bowl — so they can buy hundreds of backpacks and some school supplies for area children in need.

The idea of the giveaway was spawned when Michael found a Spider-Man bookbag in their home that she had purchased for Mason to use in kindergarten.

He never got the chance to wear the backpack.

The couple, on average, collects about $5,000 a year through the sale of the dinners and the 50-50 raffle.

“Our family may be going through a lot right now, but we, at least, have one another,” MacPherson said. “There are people out here that have no one to turn to for support.”

Marty Loney, who has been a part of the program for seven years, says being a part of this project provides a way for him to give a little back.

“I want to help,” he said.

Ellen Partin, a friend of Michael, has been attending the luncheon for about seven years.

“I have known Cindy for many years, even before her grandchildren were killed, so this is very personal to me,” Partin said. “This is a good family that have worked to take something that’s very painful and turn it positive.

Byron Partin, Ellen’s son, called both the annual spaghetti dinner and the school bookbag giveaway something special.

“I’m glad to be a part of it,” he said.

Tom Breda, a Howland resident and a longtime volunteer, said he has been blessed with a good job and feels a responsibility to help others.

“I am a friend of Cindy’s, so I will do whatever I can to help her family,” he said.

MacPherson said the love and support his family has received has more than once brought them all to tears of gratitude.

“It has strengthened us,” he said.

Lou Chine, a retired pipefitter and member of the AFL-CIO’s Union Counselor’s program, has used his family’s special spaghetti sauce recipe for the dinner since the foundation’s inception.