Leyden church’s food booth returns to fair for 80th year

  • The United Methodist Church in Leyden. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Attendees of the Franklin County Fair visit the Leyden United Methodist Church’s food booth sometime in the 1970s. Contributed Photo/ Gilda Galvis

  • Attendees of the Franklin County Fair eat at the Leyden United Methodist Church’s food booth in September of 1943. Photo contributed by Gilda Galvis. Contributed Photo/Gilda Galvis

Recorder Staff
Friday, August 11, 2017

LEYDEN — With a history spanning back to 1848, the Franklin County Fair is undeniably a staple of the county. But some attendees say today’s fair just wouldn’t be the same without one particular food booth.

Each year, guests are welcomed by the smells of clam chowder, beef stew, and a variety of pies that waft from the Leyden United Methodist Church’s food booth. Though many of the fair’s vendors have come and gone, volunteers are returning to operate the booth for the 80th year.

“It touches a lot of lives in the community,” Fred Steiner, president of the Franklin County Agricultural Society, the organization that holds the fair, said of the food booth.

So much so, that when it looked like the booth might be in jeopardy, the community rallied, according to Leyden resident Gilda Galvis, chairwoman of the church’s Fair Committee.

Galvis explained organizers needed to install fire suppression systems due to law changes, which looked like it could cost the church thousands it simply doesn’t have.

However, Steiner said Greenfield Fire Chief Robert Strahan and Capt. John Whitney helped find a law stating that if it’s a permanent building only used a few times each year, it wouldn’t need a fire suppression system. An cooking range hood would suffice. Steiner said the state fire marshal’s office approved the proposal, with the understanding that a fire engine would be on site, as is done traditionally.

Galvis said her husband, Dan, paid the necessary $800 to purchase the hood, which Steiner said vents odors and grease outside the booth. A local electrical and plumbing company is installing it for free, Galvis continued.

“A lot of people came forth and said ‘It would not be the fair without the Leyden church,’” Steiner explained.

Steiner said the booth is one of the last original ones at the fairgrounds, and the oldest continually running.

The Leyden United Methodist Church first sold food at the fair in 1937, Galvis said, when 10 members of “the ladies’ aid” planned to operate a concession stand. Their efforts brought a profit of $124 to the church’s benefit in their first year, when only a tent was used.

The booth is known for its affordable prices, homemade food, commitment to recycling and for being the only vendors serving breakfast, she said.

“We’re the first booth to open on Thursdays for noon,” Galvis said.

Today, the food booth represents the church’s biggest fundraiser, earning an average of $7,000 each year. It is also the only food booth representing Leyden at the fair, she said.

“If we didn’t have it, we would not be able to pay our bills, our electric and our pastor,” Galvis said.

Just two months ago, the church faced the possibility of being insolvent before the end of the year. Between finding a way to operate the food booth for another year, about $2,000 in recent donations and a year-long grant from the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church that will cover the Rev. Nami Yu’s salary, Galvis said the church should be able to stay open for at least another year.

Still, Galvis said volunteers are placing a greater emphasis on donations this year.

“We’re going to set a goal each day to get donations,” she said. “We’re just hoping to make it a bigger fundraiser than in the past.”

Because only about 20 people regularly come to the Leyden United Methodist Church services, and the booth requires about 24 volunteers covering three shifts each day from Thursday through Sunday, Galvis said operating the booth becomes a townwide effort.

“It’s a community effort within the town of Leyden,” she said. “People like going and helping out. That’s how they always meet friends and their neighbors.”

“The Leyden fair booth supports the church and is an integral part of the town,” agreed Selectboard Chairman Lance Fritz. “It seems to be a point of congregation for a lot of people. Like a landmark. ‘We’ll meet you at the Leyden church booth.’”

To volunteer to work a morning, afternoon or evening shift at the food booth, contact Galvis at 413-522-3186.

Reach Shelby Ashline at:
413-772-0261 ext. 257