AUGUSTA — When Gov. Paul LePage was growing up in Lewiston as the oldest son in a large, impoverished family, there were no food banks.

He remembers lining up in a government-run food surplus store when he was 6 and 7 years old.

There, he said, the poor would turn in letters from the city for need-based rations of food.

“My father was so proud, he would never be seen in there, so he’d send me and Richard, my other brother,” he said. “The cheese was good; everything else was awful.”

LePage said he and his brother would take the food home in a wagon then. But today, the governor was fielding donations — many of them from children — at the Blaine House on the first of three consecutive Saturdays in his third annual Blaine House Food Drive.

The food, said Lauren LePage, the governor’s daughter and assistant to his chief of staff, will go to the Auburn-based Good Shepherd Food Bank, which will distribute the food where it is most needed statewide.

“There have been days when food was scarce, so I don’t forget my roots,” the governor said. “It’s just instilling a whole level of responsibility to the kids.”

Many children were hanging around the Blaine House today, and food donors were offered refreshments and an opportunity to mingle with Maine’s first family.

First lady Ann LePage said the response in the event’s first hour today was the most food she’s seen dropped off in the three years. The last weekend has been the busiest, she said.

In the morning, the governor gave tours of rooms in the historic mansion. Seated at the desk that

James Blaine, one of Maine’s most prominent historical figures, used in Congress, he showed off one of the last letters that President Abraham Lincoln wrote before his 1865 assassination.

It was written to Blaine, a U.S. representative then. He moved permanently to Maine in the 1850s to edit and co-own the Kennebec Journal, which he used to promote Republican Party politics. The paper propelled his career.

He became a senator and secretary of state, also getting the 1884 Republican nomination for the presidency, a race he lost.

Rodney and Dori Bane, of Oakland, dropped off food, but they also appreciated the history lesson, as they were there with their two daughters, whom they home-school.

“This isn’t technically a school day, but when you home-school, you home-school 365 days a year,” Dori Bane said.

Three-year-old James McDonald, of Gorham, came to the Blaine House with his father, Matt, a minister who is pastor of West Gorham Union Church.

He’s also campaign manager for Blaine Richardson, of Belfast, who is running to be the Republican nominee for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat in 2014.

The McDonalds brought a trunk full of food from the congregation, but curly-haired James, wearing a white button-down shirt and a bow tie, also selected an item from his toybox to give to the governor: a plastic toy elephant.

“So this is going to be special, isn’t it?” asked Ann LePage, who said the toy would go on the governor’s desk.

“Yeah,” James replied.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652
mshepherd@centralmaine.com