PROVIDENCE — ‘Tis the season — for harvest festivals and Christmas bazaars. It is an opportunity to not only help Rhode Island parishes financially, but to also celebrate tradition, foster a true sense of community and shared faith.
When Father Nicholas Fleming was asked if he could be “raffled off” during last year’s parish bazaar, he didn’t hesitate. The assistant pastor of Saints John and Paul Church in Coventry, known throughout the parish for his love of cooking, will once again put his culinary skills to good use — and for a good cause — as part of a unique raffle at the upcoming Snowflake Bazaar held there from November 10 – November 11.
Last year, Father Fleming’s unconventional raffle of a home-cooked gourmet meal for 8-10 raised more than $3,000 at the bazaar that has been a staple for the parish community for 61 years.
Father prepared and served a seven-course meal featuring hors d’oeuvres, salad, broccoli soup and his personal favorite — Beef Wellington. He explained that the first time he ever made Beef Wellington was with Father John Unsworth, pastor of St. Bernard Church.
“He made it and it was delicious — I was inspired by that dish,” said Father Fleming.
Father Fleming explained that he will tailor the winning meal to what the family enjoys or is craving.
“I set up a specific menu and what they would like,” he said. “Last year’s raffle winners had a great time — they loved it.”
“My mom would love to take credit [for my cooking], but I learned on the fly. I love to cook pasta. If I see something I think I can do, I give it a try. I haven’t served anything that has exploded, so far the record is good.”
At Saints John and Paul Church, the parish and parochial support is huge, Father Fleming said.
“I couldn’t find a better team to work with. Anytime I’ve needed someone, they step up. A lot of people have been involved in the bazaar for many years. It has been a phenomenal group effort, even among the youth.”
Dave Kortick, who has served as Public Relations Committee Chairperson at the parish for the past 22 years, shared that Father’s raffle has become one of the biggest draws and has been well-received.
“We all thought it was a great idea and a way for him to share a special meal with the community. We would like to raise money for a good cause, but more importantly it’s about community.”
Across the state, preparations for the annual Harvest Festival at Holy Ghost Church in Tiverton are in full swing as volunteers and parish staff get ready to feature sweets and treats, a handmade boutique table and large themed gift baskets from November 3 through November 4. Holy Ghost pastor, Father Jay Finelli, explained that there is so much good that comes from these community-supported events which strengthen a connection that is built upon a shared faith.
“Festivals are so important for the financial well-being of our parishes,” said Father Finelli. “However, they are also very important to strengthen our bonds together. Whenever we work together for our parishes, we strengthen that unity which is formed in Christ.”
Meanwhile, the annual Applefest Dinner is a major fundraiser for St. Joseph Church in Pascoag. Held Saturday, Nov. 3, the evening fosters a sense of camaraderie among the volunteers who work so hard toward its success, according to volunteer Ann Fortin.
“St. Joseph’s Applefest is a family event, enjoyed by both young and old,” said Fortin, adding that most raffle items are donated by members of the Activities Committee and parishioners. Featured items include a special handmade quilt, historically made by a parishioner who is now more than 90 years old and a handcrafted, yellow cedar two-person glider made by an 80-year-old parishioner.
“In addition to a wonderful meal, parishioners of St. Joseph, our sister parish St. Patrick in Harrisville, and non-parishioners enjoy an evening of fun and fellowship. At the end of the evening, after the well fed and satisfied guests leave, the clean-up crew revels in the evening’s success and the fruits of their labor.”
These types of fundraisers also allow for an opportunity for dedicated outreach and Christian service to those most in need. Holy Trinity Parish, formerly Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, will host its annual Holiday Bazaar and Craft Fair on November 10 and is organized by the Holy Name Society and the Outreach Ministry of the parish, said Yvette Houle, parishioner and event co-chairperson.
“The money raised [from the holiday bazaar] goes to help the less fortunate in our area such as those needing food, heat and electricity for their homes or a place to live as well as some purchases for the parish needs,” said Houle.
Father Bob Marciano, pastor of St. Kevin Church, said that the highlight of the year for his parish and school is the annual Christmas Bazaar held at Bishop Hendricken High School.
“This is our 11th year and it is always an exciting day and a result of months of hard work, planning and teamwork,” said Father Marciano. The money raised, always over $20,000, helps to fund the many ministries of our parish and very active school. Our thanks to all for making this our annual ‘Get ready for Christmas event.’”
Joe Luszcz and Cheryl Woodbury have both been involved in St. Kevin’s Bazaar since it began in 2008. They both shared that they enjoy working with fellow parishioners who have all become good friends.
“It is gratifying to see how our efforts pay off in extra funds for our parish and school. And most of all it is fun,” said Woodbury. “Most of our bazaar committee and volunteers have been back year after year. The day of the bazaar is a celebration — the culmination of a year of planning and working together.”
As with most successful events, it takes a village — with volunteers dedicating time and talent. The two shared that these volunteers and helpers are vital to the success of a bazaar.
“We could not do this without support from the parish,” said Woodbury. “From our committee of approximately 20 who help with the planning and chair the various booths to the dozens of people who volunteer during the bazaar to help sell and cook and serve in the kitchen, to the teens and strong men who help transport, set up and clean up after the bazaar, we are blessed. Our wonderful parishioners also donate prizes, baked goods, crafts and white elephants, as well as selling raffle tickets. This is truly a parish effort.”
Luszcz explained that it is gratifying to see how their efforts pay off with these friendships, community and church spirit.
“The best way to get to know fellow parishioners and form lasting friendships is working together for a common goal,” said Luszcz. “It’s just not one person that makes it work. It’s our workers, volunteers, our parish, our community that comes together to make it a successful day. People actually thank us for holding this event. We also see people that come from outside the parish and participate with their friends. It’s like going to a ball game, a movie — it’s where they want to be. It’s amazing how they all come together.”