The Center for Grieving Children’s 30th Love Really Counts fundraiser was one for the record books.

“Love Really Counts is a night to come together and be there for people going through a difficult time and celebrate the power of love,” said Susan Giambalvo, program and operations director at the center, looking out over the crowded room of attendees enjoying cocktails and perusing the extensive silent auction tables at the March 3 event at Holiday Inn By the Bay in Portland.

“This is the community that ensures the center is available for anyone who needs it, whenever they need it. It’s our largest fundraiser and it goes a long way,” she said.

The center provides support to over 4,000 grieving children, teens, families and young adults a year.

Katie Hogan, board member and chair of the record-breaking event, attended with her husband, Kevin; Kate Malin, board member of the Children’s Museum of Maine, and Jenilee Bryant, live chair for the event. Elizabeth Hunt of Idexx Laboratories, one of the evening’s key sponsors, enjoyed a moment with board treasurer Kevin Hunt, Chris Kast of The Brand Company and Christy Altman of Falmouth. And former Maine Gov. John Baldacci, his wife, Karen, and nephew Robert, along with his wife, Kate, chatted with Bill Caron, president of MaineHealth.

After cocktails, over 630 guests gathered upstairs to take their seats for the live auction. After many moving speeches and a heart-wrenching video featuring the Stickney family of Cape Elizabeth, event emcee and board member Cindy Williams of WCSH-6 introduced fellow board member Nicola Morris, who opened the Sponsor-A-Child challenge.

“This is one of my favorite events of the year,” said Morris, who is also senior vice president of corporate development at Wex. “For the last 30 years, the center has been providing its services for free, which is amazing. Cost should never be a barrier to getting the help our families need. Wex is very honored to sponsor this challenge. Every time you raise your paddle, Wex will be matching your donation.”

It was a clarion call. Paddles shot up across the expansive room overflowing with guests who were only too happy to sponsor a child. Bidding began at $100 and went up from there, to the tune of a $1,000 or more per bid. In the end, the Love Really Counts event raised $300,000 – beating last year’s total by $70,000 and setting a new record for the event.

“Grief and loss is such a universal experience,” said Giambalvo. “People can understand why having support is so critical, and they want to be a part of it.”

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]