Homemade holiday-themed crafts and a variety of delicious food items from casseroles, breads and jellies to cakes, pies and cookies go on sale Saturday at the First United Methodist Church’s annual Country Store.
The Country Store is open for one day only in the First United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, 100 Spring St. The store opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 3 p.m.
All of the items that will be sold have been handmade by women and men who attend the church.
Each year, a group of mostly women volunteers begin planning for the event, with each of the volunteers contributing multiple foods or handmade craft items to sell.
Church volunteer Jonella Pride said the Country Store got its start as an offshoot of the church’s popular Pumpkin Ranch event, an October fundraiser at which the tiered front staircase of the church and its front lawn are covered with pumpkins available for purchase by the community.
“Some of us were having breakfast, and we talked about that it would be fun to do something like this. I think the Pumpkin Ranch had been on for about a year, and we thought maybe we could have a store in conjunction with that,” Pride said.
She and other organizers said the Country Store has been an October fixture for about 10 years.
Organizer Maxine Mills remembered the first iterations of the Country Store revolved mainly around handmade craft items sold by church members.
“We did not start food until (the church) started doing its fall festival, and they had food, so after that we decided to add food,” Mills said.
Now that the organizers have added food items to the Country Store inventory, they have become some of the best-selling items offered, with stocks usually sold out a few hours after the store opens.
All of the Country Store organizers agreed casseroles are the hands-down food favorites created for and sold during the event.
Pride said she has made baked spaghetti casserole, created with Pace picante sauce, as well as King Ranch chicken casserole. She also said she plans to make some tuna casseroles for the event.
Other cooks make chicken spaghetti, chicken tetrazzini and cheeseburger macaroni casseroles.
Organizer Mary Roberts has contributed chile relleno pie casseroles, green enchiladas, taco soup and lemon delight pies.
“We had a lady last year that bought a whole bunch of the casseroles to send to her son, who is away at college, so he could have home-cooked food, and I thought that was a really unique idea,” said organizer Janice Casillas.
Casseroles range in size and cost from $7 to 18, organizers said.
“We also have lots of desserts and jellies, jams, candy and brittle,” said organizer Joanna Rose.
Organizer Linda Billings said she will be creating her “Texas Trash” concoction, a salty, savory treat, for this year’s Country Store.
“It’s like the Chex party mix, but better. This is a recipe from one of my mother’s old cookbooks. It’s wheat, rice and corn Chex (cereal), Cheez-its (crackers), oyster crackers, mixed nuts, pretzels and then it has a sauce you drizzle on it that you cook it for three hours,” Billings said.
Rose said she plans to bring a variety of breads she has made, including rosemary, rosemary-basil, garlic and Romano cheese bread.
“I’ll bring in everything I don’t eat myself,” she quipped.
But the food is only part of the Country Store’s inventory.
Also for sale will be scrubbies, Chapstick holders, bumpy-scrubby dishcloths, holiday-themed kitchen towel sets, aprons, bibs, afghans and placemats.
There are also a variety of wood crafts, including wooden Christmas trees and inspirational signs.
Organizers said there are about 30 craftspeople that participate and provide items for the event.
The Country Store also features a silent auction, which this year will include a beef brisket smoked by Jimmy Murdoch and casseroles for a year from Shannon Brown.
All of the funds raised from sales at the Country Store go to help feed the community’s hungry residents.
“We are not raising funds for the church. We do not keep any of the money. We keep enough to advertise next year’s event, and all the rest goes to the needy and the hungry,” Pride said.
Organizer Marva Martwig said much of the funding goes to the public school district’s “backpack” program.
“There’s about 20 kids, and on Thursdays we buy food and go and put it in the backpacks of the children that have been selected by parental liaison, so the children will have enough food for the weekend,” Martwig said.
In past year, proceeds also have gone to the Bethel Center and Meals on Wheels.