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Community rallies around bun queen


After a business crisis, Maggie Pike finds out who her friends are

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Maggie Pike appreciates the community support during her professional crisis. Despite the anguish caused by a mysterious norovirus outbreak, Pike considers herself so lucky because of her loyal friends and customers.It wasn’t the greeting Charles McAvoy expected when he stopped by Maggie’s Buns last week to visit proprietor Maggie Pike.

“Just go pray,” his longtime friend told him.

Pike was facing the biggest crisis of her restaurant career: the fact that 15 people had come down with norovirus, a highly contagious gastrointestinal infection that — in this case — Washington County public-health officials had traced to a fruit plate from Maggie’s Buns.

The worst part was that one of the victims, 43-year-old Kevin Weeks of McMinnville, died on March 19, a day after everyone else recovered.

By last Friday, it was clear that a media-fed assumption — that Weeks died from norovirus — was untrue.

“It is safe to say that Mr. Weeks did not die from norovirus,” State Medical Examiner Cliff Nelson said. It will be several weeks before officials better know the actual cause of Weeks’ death.

“We never assumed or stated that Weeks died of norovirus,” said Wendy Gordon, communications coordinator for Washington County Health and Human Services. Gordon was surprised to see an early media report referring to a “suspected norovirus death.”

Shocked at Weeks’ death but relieved she hadn’t caused it, Pike still faced heightened publicity from being initially connected to the tragedy. She pictured her 15-year-old business crashing down around her.

“I’m a mess,” she said last Thursday. “I’m devastated.”

Through her shock and sleeplessness and disbelief (“I am so manic about food safety!”), Pike was vaguely aware of people pouring into her restaurant with messages: “I support you 100 percent,” “We love you,” “We believe in you.”

She began to notice that business was unusually strong.

It was an impressive display of a community “paying it backward” after years of generosity from Pike: her free soup for cyclists twice a year, her at-cost catered weddings for financially strapped brides and grooms, her free lunches for homeless or hungry people, her free breakfasts each year for anyone running in the Race for the Cure.

“She is a community treasure,” wrote Blake Timm, one of more than 200 people who signed an ad supporting Pike (see below).

“She has been generous to our church program over the years,” wrote Rev. Sue Ayer.

“Maggie has donated food to many events at Valley Art. She is so good ... I hate to see this happen to her,” wrote Lynne Magner.

Kristin Tarnowski added her name and also that of Dogs Assisting Diabetics Foundation because “she has supported our program so much.”

“My wife and I met at Maggie’s Buns!” wrote Jason Tosch.

For someone who believes in karma, Pike shouldn’t have been surprised by the support, but she was — perhaps because she’s still reeling from the TV news vans parked outside her restaurant and the negative news reports about her bun house.

“They make you feel like a pariah,” she said.

Still, when forced to describe the community reaction, Pike is clearly moved.

“People are amazing,” she said. “I have people purposely coming in and ordering fruit salad.”

She has to tell them she stopped serving it last week.