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Locals let bighearted owner of MoonDogs know he's loved, appreciated

Darryl Baldwin, owner of MoonDogs, Too restaurant and bar in Port Orchard, smiles while greeting friends at a Jan. 2 gathering in his honor held at Amy's on the Bay restaurant. (Photo by Tim Kelly)Darryl Baldwin brought the Port Orchard community together again for a special night — and this time, sadly, may have been his last time to do so.

Wearing a black MoonDogs, Too hoodie, the 57-year-old Baldwin smiled warmly as he greeted and hugged scores of friends who turned out Jan. 2 for an event to recognize him for all he’s done for his community.

It was just a week after the free Christmas dinner that MoonDogs has hosted as a benefit for South Kitsap Helpline food bank every year since 2007 when Baldwin — whose five-year struggle with cancer isn’t expected to last much longer — opened his restaurant and bar on Bay Street.

The jam-packed gathering at Amy’s on the Bay paid tribute to Baldwin, with an official proclamation read by Port Orchard Mayor Tim Matthes and other townsfolk’s heartfelt expressions of love and appreciation.

Darryl Baldwin hugs his girlfriend, Sheila Cline, during his time speaking to the crowd at an event held to recognize his community service. (Photo by Tim Kelly)Helpline executive director Jennifer Hardison told Baldwin that “no one else compares” with how MoonDogs has supported the food bank. “We are truly blessed to have you and your staff. You are the best, and we just love you.”

Some, like City Councilwoman Cindy Lucarelli, were moved to tears, but there were plenty of laughs, too. Congressman Derek Kilmer told the crowd he wished he could pass a resolution like the mayor’s, “but I’m in Congress, and we don’t pass anything.”

Although Baldwin has supported numerous local causes and charities, the community dinners MoonDogs provided on Christmas and Thanksgiving have become a cherished local tradition. The gatherings that saw a few dozen people show up the first year have grown to draw more than 300 people — some families and individuals who wouldn’t have a holiday dinner otherwise, others who made generous donations.

In a 2008 article in the Port Orchard Independent before the second annual community Thanksgiving dinner, Baldwin said the response the first year showed the event “was obviously the right thing to do, and something that people were looking for.

“We felt that we had made a difference in people’s lives.”

That message was heartily reinforced at the community tribute to the MoonDogs owner.

When it was his turn to take the microphone, Baldwin — looking thin and frail but clearly touched by the outpouring of support — gave special recognition to his girlfriend, Sheila Cline, someone else who’s made her mark as a community booster. Cline, the indefatigable organizer of the town’s annual Jingle Bell Run for the Arthritis Foundation, “came into my life knowing I had cancer, knowing there was a risk,” he said, “but she wanted to take care of me.”

As a past president of the Port Orchard Bay Street Association, Baldwin worked to create a sense of unity among business owners trying to improve the city’s struggling downtown area. He reminded everyone at the gathering in his honor how important it is to work together for the sake of the community they all love.

He said the town had been “fractured” in recent years, referring to divisive local politics, but Baldwin urged people to remember that “everybody here wants what’s best for Port Orchard.”

“If anything comes out of this,” he said, “I want you to keep that in mind.”

And Baldwin assured the locals that MoonDogs, Too will continue to be part of the community after he’s gone, operating as an employee-owned business run by some of his longtime staff who share his values and philosophy.

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