St. Emma's to host outdoor Food Fair Nov. 6-7

Quarts of homemade soups are frozen and ready for next week's Food Fair.

It wasn’t exactly a committee that created the Food Fair next week at St. Emma Monastery in Hempfield Township, Mother Mary Anne Noll said. It was just her and a few volunteers who put their heads together a couple of weeks ago to try to come up with a way to raise funds.

Like what many others non-profits have been experiencing during the pandemic, the six sisters of St. Benedict lost substantial income when retreats and other events were canceled, and reservations for their Robertshaw Country House Bed and Breakfast dropped when people stopped traveling.

They also lost income when their successful quarterly book sales and massive three-day indoor and outdoor flea market were scratched. Sales dropped, too, when their gift and book shop and Treasure Shop had to be closed for a time. The annual fundraising dinner couldn’t be held this year, either.

And there was no way that they could hold their old-fashioned Christmas Shoppe that every November features food sales and multiple rooms filled with seasonal gifts and decorations. That wouldn’t have worked with social distancing requirements, considering the crowds that are drawn for their events.

So now what?

“We came up with Plan B,” Noll said. “And if that didn’t work, there are 24 more letters after ‘B.’”

Plan B is going to work, thanks to the ideas shared by volunteers Nancy Robinson of Irwin and Joanna Shero of Export, and Judy Begeman of Delmont, who works in the office. After warp-speed planning, the sisters and their crew of dedicated volunteers will be hosting their first outdoor Food Fair from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 6-7.

Noll calls the take-out menu “comfort food” because, she said, “You take it home and eat in the comfort of your own home.”

Tents set up in the new extended parking lot will be filled with food and gifts to purchase, and with raffles of themed baskets.

In the short time of planning, the monastery’s volunteers stepped up to start cooking in the commercial kitchen, two or three at a time to observe CDC regulations for the pandemic. Many of them donated the ingredients to make the food.

One freezer is already filled with quart containers of homemade soups (turkey rice, vegetable, green pepper, wedding, beef rice, plus chili). Other volunteers are preparing frozen pepperoni, cheese and spinach pizzas that will be sold in six- or 12-cut packages, and a volunteer who lived in Italy for nine years made pasta sauces. Pierogies will be for sale, too.

Volunteers made pumpkin bread and other sweet breads, cookies, chocolate-covered pretzel sticks and chocolate bark. They also assembled dry ingredients for food mixes (soup, cookies, coffee cake) in quart jars and other containers.

Food is not the only thing that will be at the fair.

“We have big black mystery boxes that will sell for $30 a box, and what’s inside is worth from $50 to $100,” Noll said.

Themed baskets will be raffled off using one deck of cards for each one. Patrons can buy one of 54 cards (jokers are included) for $5, tear the card in half and enter one half in the raffle. There are other baskets that can be purchased outright for $5 to $15. Christmas themed décor such as wreaths, candles and Santa statues are available, too.

Guests can visit the chapels and a number of inspirational sites on the monastery grounds. There are shrines to Padre Pio, Our Lady of Fatima, St. Walburga and the Last Supper, and walks through the outdoor Stations of the Cross and Rosary Path.

The fundraising doesn’t end when the Food Fair is over.

“People said to me, ‘Why don’t you do something online?’ because everybody is doing something online,” Noll said.

So about a week after the Food Fair, the volunteers will open an online auction for a wide assortment of donated items in 20 different categories, like books, jewelry and toys. Some items will be grouped in lots. For instance, multiple pieces of jewelry, or several books on the same topic.

Sets of items will be up for bid for three days, then replaced by another series. All merchandise must be picked up at the gift shop during regular hours.

For more information, visit www.stemma.org or call 724-834-3060. St. Emma Monastery is located at 1001 Harvey Ave., which is Route 819 north of Greensburg. Find it on Facebook at Benedictine Nuns, St. Emma Monastery. Masks and social distancing will be required at the Food Fair and on other areas of the monastery grounds.

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