Fifty years blessed
The month of November is synonymous with cold, the beginning flurries of snow, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the color orange.
You might think that’s funny, but it is true! As the end of October rolls around and the wrappings of Halloween candy begin to flutter away in the chilling breeze, that bright, unmistakable blaze of orange rolls out of closets everywhere, to hang freely in the open air in anticipation for the year’s opening hunt.
And, what follows as many men and women truck themselves out to the woods in blazing orange; rifles slung over their shoulders? Crafting. Lots and lots of crafting.
While not necessarily an official occurrence, you can ask anyone – when the hunting season comes around, the crafting fairs are not far behind! While many of us take to freezing outside on the hunt, another majority of us travel to and fro in search of those hand-made, unique goodies and crafts that stuff the stockings and warm up the hot-glue gun.
And, in that spirit, Buffalo’s St. John’s Lutheran Church decided 50 years of Christmas-time craft fairs deserved a recognition.
Fifty years strong, 50 years blessed
When church member Mina Loberg approached the leadership overseeing St. John’s Lutheran Church in 1968, one would be willing to bet that she wouldn’t know how it would evolve 50 years later.
With the desire and personal need to help with missionary efforts at the forefront of her mind and heart, Mina Loberg approached the pastor of St. John’s, as well as its leadership team, with an idea in mind on how to contribute to the community and other mission outreach programs.
Since that day in 1968, the Country Fair for Mission Outreach is one of St. John’s biggest events to date. With its own committee of volunteers to oversee the program, work starts on crafts almost as soon as doors close to the event. With a beautiful display of hand-sewn quilts, towels, baked goods, and hand-made crafts, with coffee and snacks on-hand, it’s not hard to believe that work for the fair is year-round.
“We have people who quilt three hundred and sixty-five days a year,” Brenner also added. “They are all crafted by hand, which takes hours of work. In 2017, we had a total of 35 quilts, and that took all year.”
Of those 35 quilts, the fair sold 21 of them, while 14 were donated.
Elizabeth “Beth” Husom, a member who sits on the committee and volunteers for the fair, knows it first-hand. She remembers taking part in event preparations even as a young kid, as her mother was (and is!) quite involved with the fair. She runs the “County Fair Naturals” area, which offers natural soaps, food items, etc. She commented that having started with 124, she packed up only 38, having sold 86 items at her station.
“A lot of the people I came across were folks from last year, and some even had started making their own products, which was the goal. It’s wonderful, and I’m proud to have taken part of that.”
Since the beginning of the fair in 1968, things have grown and expanded. Mary Brenner and Christine Husom, both active in the fair, can testify to that – with the changing times not only bringing a change of interests to the buying public, but also to crafters and artists, too.
“One of our goals is to really expand and feature items that are relevant to the public,” Brenner shared. “We want to be ‘up with the times,’ and offer a selection of gift ideas that will interest not only long-time members, but also newcomers.”
There lies a societal divide of what is popular and relevant to the public these days, than what it was when the fair began in 1968, when craft fairs featured items like embroidered towels and quilts, and varieties of baked goods. While still featured at many fairs, the amount of vendors may be smaller than what you remember – as not only are those items not as often sought-out, but, there are a shortage of apprentices willing to learn those types of skills.
“We hope to involve younger generations each and every year,” Beth explained. “We offer a Kids Corner, and get them involved with the cashiering process. It’s surprising, many of them enjoy it, and more and more of them have stepped up to help it along.”
As for the volunteer force, about 80 members of the church work at various times, whether it is manning a coffee and cookie bar or working the cash registers. The kitchen, though, is perhaps the busiest area outside of the shopping area – when you serve hundreds of plates of Chow Mein and tacos, a busy kitchen is a given!
Brenner had guessed that they prepare around 200+ plates of food, and that is “on the lower end.” The money garnered from the meals alone help fund a large portion of the contributions, and combined, the fair earns around $10,000 a year, with a $15,000 year as the highest grossing fair on the books.
With an upwards of around 100 vendors and contributors, the fair’s traffic “really depends,” as Beth explained. “Some years, it can be packed with people waiting at the door right at 8 a.m. Other years, it’s been just steady throughout the day, or busy at one time. And then, if the weather is questionable, it can be slower than years before.”
However, each year is always a “success” to those at St. John’s – every amount earned is an amount they can give back, and that is something St. John’s is willing to work hard for every year.
All in all, the St. John’s Country Fair provides a platform and opportunity for local artists and those with a heart for service to gather around and make a difference at a local level, as well as an international one. As of now, the recipients of the fair’s earnings have not yet been decided, though Mary, Beth, and Christine are assured that each charity will be considered prayerfully, and closely.
“Fifty years is just a milestone,” Christine commented, “and many of these people have been involved that long. It’s truly an experience that brings us all together.”
So, the next time you see the hunting orange come around, know that the opporunity to do good is right around the corner at St. John’s.
St. John’s Lutheran Church can be found at 302 Second Street NE, in Buffalo.