Making that calculator sing at the church bazaar

My fingers flew over the calculator keys as customers lined up at the cashiers’ table with shopping baskets full of Christmas ornaments, cookies, used books, ribbons, fabric, jewelry, bowls, candles, plants and more. Compared to my recent experience at last week’s garage sale, where I was dealing in such small numbers I didn’t need a calculator, this was high finance.
This was the annual holiday bazaar at Newport, Oregon’s Sacred Heart Church, ironically scheduled on Nov. 1. On Halloween I was decorating a Christmas tree at the entrance to the hall, standing on a stepstool putting up lights and pine boughs and crawling on the floor trying to figure out how to plug in the lights, two trees, an animated Santa Claus and a boom box without blowing up the church. Meanwhile the tide of people bringing in cookies, pies, muffins and other baked goods never stopped. 
Other volunteers transformed the main hall into a wonderland of red, green and gold and turned classrooms into the Book Nook, Country Store, and Odds and Ends Room. Tables filled up with jewelry, holiday decorations, pictures, craft supplies, cookies and more, more, more.
This is our parish’s big fundraiser, and it is big. Volunteers spend months collecting and pricing merchandise and gathering donations for the raffle and silent auction. Two days before the bazaar, the religious pictures in the hall come down, replaced by quilts, paintings and signs urging people to buy more raffle tickets.
On Saturday, the kitchen area became a restaurant, where bazaar-goers noshed on soup, Chinese food, and pies, pies, pies (140!), served by parishioners turned waiters and waitresses. People started arriving before the doors opened at 9:00. By 10, the church parking lots were full, and cars lined the streets. It was loud, crowded and wonderful.
I was subbing for my friend Pat, who was sick. I had only planned to donate books and homemade loaves of pumpkin and banana bread, but I wound up staying to do a lot more. I don’t want to say thank you for getting sick—Pat, please get well ASAP—but I’m glad I got to do it.
I didn’t win the raffle, but I came home with two bags of treasures, along with a piece of apple pie and a warm heart.
Yesterday (Sunday), the bazaar reopened after the Masses, with all the leftovers on sale for half price. Whatever’s left will be donated to charity or saved for next year’s bazaar. When I return to church for choir practice on Tuesday night, the religious pictures will be back on the walls, and the tables back in their usual places, the warm feeling of family and friendship will remain.
I worked my way through college clerking at retail stores, selling sheet music, furniture, uniforms and housewares. Forty years later, the old skills still kick back in. If this writer gig doesn’t work out, I can always fall back into retail, at least once a year.

The Spirit Fills the Church Bazaar

It started months ago with people gathering their unwanted possessions–their books and CDs, coffee mugs, unused popcorn poppers, china figurines, and Christmas decorations–and bringing them to the church. The donations piled up in the office, the basement, and the garage. As the time drew nearer, Father Brian started his post-Mass standup routine about the important of buying raffle tickets. You don’t have to be here, he said. We’ll mail it to you—I hope you don’t win a sofa. And if you don’t want any of the other prizes, we have money! For weeks, after Mass, people walked around with strips of gray raffle tickets and signed their names on big posters for donations and volunteer tasks.
Then the baking began. Zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, banana bread, scones, muffins, and thousands of cookies, not just chocolate chip but peanut butter, sugar cookies with green sprinkles, snickerdoodles, and Rice Krispy treats.
Halloween and All Saints Day came and went, pen scratches on the calendar compared to what was coming Saturday: the Sacred Heart bazaar.
On Thursday, workers took down the holy pictures and posters in the hall and the adjoining classrooms. They rearranged the tables, covering them with red and green cloths. They carried load after load of books, CDs, coffee mugs, popcorn poppers, china figurines and Christmas decorations from their hiding places into the hall. They set up signs for the Book Nook, the Country Store, Odds and Ends, the Cookie Walk. They set up tables near the kitchen where people could eat Chinese lunch or homemade pie.
On Friday, parishioners with dough and colored sprinkles embedded in their fingernails came in a steady stream delivering their home-baked contributions on holiday plates, in plastic bags, in aluminum foil.
On Saturday, parishioners, garage salers, and bazaar lovers were waiting at the doors at 9 a.m. With borrowed grocery store baskets in their hands and twenty-dollar bills in their wallets, they shopped and shopped, and, like the loaves and fishes, there was still more to buy. They bought raffle tickets and signed their names to spend hundreds of dollars on silent auction items, including paintings, quilts, and a dinner with Father Brian. They filled boxes with all kinds of cookies, filled them so tight they could barely close the lids.
When the bazaar ended at 3 p.m., there was still more left to buy. So on Sunday, the workers opened the doors again, and parishioners swarmed out of the 8:30 and 10:30 Masses to snatch those half-price bargains, not minding that the usual donuts had been replaced by leftover pie.
Then, sated, clutching their treasures to their chests, they went out into the rain while the exhausted volunteers counted the money and returned the hall to its usual holy appearance, knowing that Sacred Heart would thrive for another year.