So… what was I doing last week? Well, every year for the past 20 years, the people of First United Methodist Church (Somerville) have had a booth in the food tent at the Somerset County 4-H Fair. For the past 11 years, I have been part of First UMC and so I have been part of the fair.
The Somerset County 4-H Fair had its 70th anniversary in 2017. It started operation in 1947 and was focused on agriculture. However, as the area has increased in population and decreased in farms, you now will see 4-H Clubs exhibiting everything from robotics, to R.C. cars, magic, rockets, go-carts and more at the fair.
“Ten other 4-H tents house a variety of animals including dairy cows, alpaca, horses, dogs, herpetology, sheep, goats, poultry, rabbits, and small animals. Most animal tents have a petting area and information about how to join 4-H.” (https://www.tapinto.net/towns/franklin-township/articles/somerset-county-4h-fair-celebrates-70th-anniversa-1)
There also is an enormous food tent where 20 non-profit groups serve up snacks, meals, and (non-alcoholic) drinks. That food tent is where my church comes in. We have the sausage, peppers, and onion sandwich concession. We also sell soda, water, and (new this year) brownies.
Planning for and carrying out a fund raiser like this is no easy task. The fair lasts three days (Wednesday through Friday) during the second week in August, and the fair is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day.
Aside from the initial planning and recruitment of volunteers months and weeks before the fair, work for the week begins the Sunday of fair week, when a team arrives at my house around 1:00 p.m. to remove the boards and sign that make up the booth (they are stored in my garage the rest of the year). They take everything over to the fairgrounds and construct the booth. After 20 years, we’ve got that down to a tee, as you can see from the photos below.
On Tuesday, part of the vegetables and sausage order comes in, and volunteers begin cutting peppers and onions and cooking them, as well as cooking the sausages. This year we had a couple of glitches: contractors were installing fire doors throughout the church and putting a wall in the middle of a formerly long room to create a storage space for the fair. The construction had an impact on a couple of outside groups that usually meet in the building and our volunteers prepping and cooking for the fair. We solved the issue by moving the outside groups upstairs to the church itself and to its anteroom (we call it the Family Room). So, everybody was happy and could get on with whatever it was they were doing.
Another glitch was the sausage order. Our vendor did not have the order ready and (surprise!) no sausages were to be found at its sister locations. So a rush order was put in, which stopped us from losing our minds and running and screaming throughout the church. Below, you can see our sausage/veggie pick up people proudly displaying packages of Premio sausages. We were "happy dancing" everywhere. And, yes, our people love to mug for the camera!
The other photo below shows us cutting veggies. I got "volun-told" to cut peppers this year because "you helped us do that last year." (Note to self: never do anything once, because you'll be doing it again next year. LOL) I'm in the photo on the right, second person from the left, just in case you're curious.
Tuesday night, another team loaded up an SUV and took all the supplies, tables, and chairs over to the booth to set things up. That went quickly and we had enough time for to mug for another photo. I'm behind the camera this time.
My work started in earnest (really??) Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. when I arrived at the fairgrounds to get the booth ready for business. Fortunately, I had some good help from one of our parishioners and one of our crazy teenagers. Business began at 10 a.m. and we sold our first sausage at 10:30. (Yes, we keep track of this stuff.) My work day ran until 3:00 or 3:30 p.m., and we had teams of people coming in for three hour shifts throughout the day.
For the next two days, the routine was rinse and repeat. But it’s an intense rinse and repeat. We were constantly in communication with the kitchen at the church for food (the hot, cooked food, is shipped as needed in insulated coolers and we put the food as needed into our heated trays), supplies like napkins, and other needs. Except for that one night when the booth got too busy to answer the texts from the church. The church team then texted me (I was home) and asked if I could get through to the booth. Since I haven't developed psychic powers yet or the ability to fly at the speed of light, I just sent more texts. The booth eventually calmed down and told the kitchen what they needed. Good times...
Making sure all our volunteers show up is another priority and, should they not show up, finding more is critical and a little anxiety-provoking. We also make sure people take breaks and get enough water because it was HOT and HUMID.
Below are photos of us in action or possibly not (too busy to take photos when things were humming). The shot on the left is one of our children multi-tasking by taking drink orders and eating cotton candy. The one on the right shows a little precious down time for two of our team. Adults take naps, while youth get caught up on social media. What can I say?
Of course, we also took time to goof around, because life at the fair is not all work. On the left, behold, "Brisk Head!" On the right, one of our members and her daughter take time to make new friends. To clarify, they were NOT praying over the albino anaconda or for the girl it is wrapped around. They just wanted to see what it felt like.
I’d like to say all our hard work brought in a fantastic profit for our church’s ministries, but the weather was hot and humid, which had an impact on attendance. Plus, we don't get everything we take in. A percentage of our gross goes to support 4-H and, of course, we must pay our vendors.
But all in all, as difficult and as challenging as it is, the 4-H Fair is important. We spend time, laugh, tear out our communal hair, and support one another in love. We also are able to renew friendships with people at other churches, synagogues, and non-profit groups. And best of all, we get to be face-to-face with people and serve them some really good food.
I think I’m going to take nap now...
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder