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Going above and beyond

Linda Baldacchino is the Malverne/West Hempstead Herald's 2020 Person of the Year

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Many people who have gotten to know Linda Baldacchino, youth ministry director at Our Lady of Lourdes, in Malverne, would agree that she finds joy in working behind the scenes.

Linda and her husband, John, have four children, Tommy, Julie, Maura and Danny. She teaches religion at St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens, and for more than 20 years, she has volunteered for numerous causes in the village.

“She’s constantly looking for something else to do or someone else to help,” said Marianne Sheridan, a former director of the youth ministry at the Diocese of Rockville Centre. “She’s just so unassuming, yet she motivates people to go above and beyond.”

In recognition of her selflessness and willingness to support others, the Herald is proud to name Baldacchino its 2020 Person of the Year.

A Garden City native, Baldacchino, 44, followed the example of her aunt Jane Horning, a longtime parishioner and volunteer at OLL. Baldacchino founded Lourdes’ youth ministry in 1998, shortly after earning a bachelor’s degree at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, and moved to Malverne a few years later. She has since spearheaded numerous causes in the community, including the parish’s biannual Midnight Run, in which members of the youth ministry and other parishioners give food, clothing and personal care items to homeless people in Manhattan.

“She’s just a phenomenal person and an amazing leader who deserves this honor,” said Alex Klimek, a member of the youth ministry. “She organizes everything that we do, and she makes everything super-fun for us.”

Klimek, a 17-year-old senior at Chaminade High School, in Mineola, said that one of Baldacchino’s most admirable qualities is her compassion. “What’s even more crazy to me,” he said, “is that even with raising her own children, she still finds a way to do everything that she does for us. You just have to admire people like that.”

Another Youth Ministry member, Jake Orfano, added that Baldacchino promotes inclusiveness. Orfano, 17, also a senior at Chaminade, said that one of his favorite programs is Camp Lourdes, during the summer. “I’m just so proud at how she gets everyone together, and makes everyone feel very happy and wanting to participate,” he said. “She’s hardworking and she’s so dedicated, which makes her an awesome person to work with.”

Orfano’s mother, Hope, said that even after students complete their confirmation, Baldacchino is one of the volunteers at the parish who inspires them to come back and continue their volunteerism. “The kids really follow behind her, kind of like the Pied Piper,” Hope said. “They still want to help out and get involved, and it even makes me want to be involved.”

Sheridan, who has worked with Baldacchino on the Midnight Run for almost a decade, said that she finds ways to combine faith and service. Sheridan, who is now the manager of youth programs at the Mercy Center in the Bronx, said that her friend has found time to support the center as well. She helped organize and collect donations for its flea market earlier this year.

“Linda’s model of service is incredible,” Sheridan said. “She’ll come up with all sorts of wacky ideas, but she has such enthusiasm about it that we’ll find a way to make it work. Her heart is so filled with the need to help others, and she does everything with a sense humor, because she knows she’s a little crazy.”

Baldacchino also coordinates Malverne’s annual Souper Scavenger Hunt, one of the village’s most popular events. She recruits teams throughout the community to collect donations for Lourdes’ food pantry. Each year, the event amasses two to four tons of food for low-income families in the area. Usually held in March, the event was postponed to June this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, the parish organized a three-day food drive at the church in March. The proceeds were distributed to people in need from OLL’s food pantry. “The food pantry back in March really gave us volunteers a chance to all help out, and made us all feel better,” said OLL parent Deidre Lawler. “We all felt like we were contributing in some way.”

Lawler, who befriended Baldacchino 10 years ago, when both were young parents, recounted that Baldacchino was one of several volunteers who personally took calls from parishioners in need, helping to provide them with much-needed resources. “She’s really helped to transform the lives of others through the little things that she’s done,” Lawler said. “The thing is, she’s doesn’t even realize it. She doesn’t look for kudos, which makes her even more special.”

Baldacchino, who won the Town of Hempstead’s Humanitarian Pathfinder Award in 2017, attributes the success of her events to other volunteers and residents. During the holiday season she coordinates Christmas decorations and gift collections for Glory House, in Hempstead, a halfway house for adults. The youth ministry, she says, usually delivers a Christmas tree, donated by Crossroads Farm, to the shelter. The group then teams up with people at the shelter to decorate the tree, and then they go Christmas caroling.

While that couldn’t take place this year, the youth ministry prepared gift bags for shelter residents, and monetary donations to help with its operations. “We put the word out there about this, and we just got a tremendous response from the community,” Baldacchino said. “Hats, gloves, wallets, toiletries, you name it. So many people stepped to donate items for those in need.”