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Pandemic threatens popular church fundraisers

  • Ray Laroche uses a 1914 hit-and-miss engine connected to an ice cream churner to make old-fashioned ice cream during the 42nd annual Bernardston Gas Engine Show and Flea Market. The show will skip 2020 due to the coronavirus. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Andrea Zimmerman, Russell Dean, Janet Keyes and Deb Cory assemble apple pies at Robbins Memorial Church in Greenfield in February. The pie sales that Robbins Memorial Congregational Church are famous for have been on hold this spring. Staff file photo/Paul Franz

Staff writer
Published: 4/24/2020 4:24:30 PM
Modified: 4/24/2020 4:24:17 PM

For faith groups in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region, fundraising serves a dual purpose: it raises money and it raises spirits. Both have been challenged as a result of coronavirus-related restrictions.

The pie sales that Robbins Memorial Congregational Church in Greenfield are famous have been on hold this spring, but could return in early May as a curbside sale.

“No date is set yet,” according to member Janet Keyes, “as we are awaiting guidance on what may be acceptable to the (city) of Greenfield. We will probably need to have all sales by reservation. The first sale will be apple and blueberry pies only. Then in June we also plan to have strawberry-rhubarb pies, a popular favorite.”

At the United Church of Bernardston, the 44th annual Gas Engine Show and Flea Market, a traditional Memorial Day weekend event, is the latest casualty of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Rev. David Neil.

“The trouble with postponing it,” Neil said, “is that so many of the people who have the gas engines get booked into going to different places. There’s a gas engine show almost everywhere in New England all the way through the fall, and people go from one location to another. The same with the vendors. A lot of those people have other spots, so we looked into the possibility of rescheduling, but it just doesn’t work when people have other commitments.”

Already on the chopping block were the church’s monthly roast beef suppers.

“We’re going to end up losing three of those and each of those (nets) a little over $1,000,” Neil said. Thanks to a cushion of reserve from past fundraisers, the financial impact has been minimal. But “if we can’t get back to fairly regular stuff by the fall, it’s going to make things difficult.”

On the other hand, Neil said, members are coming together “in ways I never imagined. That’s what defines us as a church. It’s like the white noise of life disappears and you can see that connectedness we all share that’s always been there.”

In Athol, the Rev. Mary Owen, pastor of Starrett Memorial United Methodist Church, said the church has canceled its monthly suppers.

“We’ve been very disappointed because we really enjoy our dinners,” Owen said. “We always have well over 125. We have lots of regulars. Most of the people that eat in the dining room are people from outside the church and many of them have been coming for decades.”

Owen admitted the church budget has taken “a little bit of a hit, (but) our people are very good about stepping up when they need to.”

For most churches, including Starrett, the income from fundraisers supports their missions.

At the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew in Greenfield, the Rev. Heather Blais, rector, estimates that $12,000 of budgeted income comes from fundraising and all of that goes to mission outreach. Roughly half comes from the Mistletoe Mart and Craft Fair in November.

“I think we’re pretty optimistic that we’ll be able to have our Mistletoe Mart in November,” Blais said. “I think we’d be pretty heartbroken if we couldn’t do that one. Hopefully, by the fall ... but who knows what the fall will bring?”

The other half of the fundraising budget is patched together from community dinners such as French Night, an elegant dinner set for May, which the church had to cancel, that would have brought in a few thousand dollars. An annual electronics recycling event set for June was connected to the work of the church’s green team.

“Basically, we haven’t even explored it,” Blais said. “We just don’t know enough about what the new normal will look like and when that will even begin.”

Even so, mission outreach goes on at Saints James and Andrew, including a new one, Sunday Sandwiches, which replaces the temporarily suspended Cathedral in the Light outdoor service and meal.

“The Vestry, our leadership team, will need to think creatively on how to raise these funds,” Blais said, “as we are 110 percent committed to making sure our mission to the community happens.”

At Trinity Church in Shelburne Falls, the Rev. Marguerite Sheehan said, “The groups that rent our building, and that we hope will again be with us when the pandemic has passed, are weekly low-rent-paying groups — AA, a playgroup, a martial arts class and another small tai chi class. We canceled a poetry reading from Voices from Inside and hope to reschedule that in the future.”

In Northfield, Sue McGowan, moderator of the Trinitarian Congregational Church, reported, “We have always felt strongly about the value of fundraising projects, not only for funds, but for their value in community-building within and among the congregational members. There’s nothing like a church kitchen for that. This year, we have three fundraisers scheduled, with hopes that we can move forward with all of them: a golf tournament on July 11, salad bar luncheon on Aug. 19 and our Hollyberry Fair on Nov. 7. In case you’re wondering about that kitchen component, the fair always includes a bake sale, the golf event includes a barbecue, and the luncheon — well, that speaks for itself.”

At Second Congregational Church in Greenfield, the Rev. Dr. Susan Tarolli, interim minister, said, “Folks here are hesitant to predict the future too far in advance. So the only fundraiser that I know has been altered is the Bee Fest, and it has become a community-wide event, not just a church event ... It was scheduled for May 23 and the organizing committee decided to cancel it. They will look forward to celebrating next spring.”

In Athol, the Rev. Dr. Candi Ashenden reported, “After much discussion, the Athol Congregational Church leadership team voted (on April 16) to cancel the church fair scheduled for June 6. This is our largest fundraiser of the year, often netting nearly $10,000 toward our annual budget and our yearly missions. We are concerned about holding that large a gathering in less than six weeks, and the community’s safety is our first priority.”

The Athol-Orange Baptist Church had to cancel its Living Last Supper due to the coronavirus, Secretary Sally Wheeler said.

“Other events will hopefully be rescheduled and others remain to be seen,” she noted. “So much is up in the air.”

The Rev. Bruce Burks, pastor of the Vernon (Vt.) Advent Christian Church, reported, “The only fundraising activities we generally do are, 1) periodic luncheons following morning worship to support mission teams going to Honduras and, 2) breakfasts and luncheons to raise money for our annual Penny Crusade for missions. Not being able to have these meals has obviously diminished our ability to support these programs, although we will continue these fundraisers as soon as we are able.

“At this point, morale doesn’t seem to be diminished,” he added, “as folks are busy making face masks for local nursing homes and volunteering at our food pantry.”

Reach Chris Harris at 413-772-0261, ext. 265 or charris@recorder.com.

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