"Today I was checking on things like getting propane for the grills and making those other last minute purchases," said Young of readying the booth which is selling Australian cuisine. Most notably, povlovas. "Those are baked meringue shells filled with non-dairy whipped cream, blueberries, strawberries and kiwi fruit," she explained of their mainstay menu item.
United Church is just one of 10 churches (among other non-profits) that are staffing food booths during the weekend, raising funds for their various ministry efforts.
It's just a slice of a vast array of activities at the annual arts festival, now in its 49th year without an admission charge. There is hands-on art, music, poetry and theater performances, artist work exhibitions and plenty of surprises tucked into the central downtown area (for more information visit www.festivalgr.org).
LAYING THE GROUNDWORK
Young says volunteers are the key in making any food booth run smoothly. "I don't care how big your church is, the toughest thing is to get enough volunteers to cover all the days and the times," she noted.
The Union Church booth coordinator was there eight years ago when they decided to get into the Festival action, picking up elements of an Australian food menu another church had given up on several years earlier.
The Wayland congregation worships under 50 members each Sunday. So to marshal more than 40 volunteers covering shifts over three days is admirable. "Some work two shifts and some work each day," she offered.
Last year they added sausage rolls to their menu. It was a good move – they sold 600 of them. This year Union Church is introducing grilled pineapple on a skewer. The pineapple is glazed with a combination of lemon juice, honey, and a bit of cinnamon. "It's seems to be the rage right now, and we're only charging two dollars," Young said of the treat.
Each new menu item must be approved by Festival officials, making sure there's no duplication with other food booths and sampling the new item before they give the sales go ahead.
Cathy Taylor is one of the chief architects of the booth run by Journey of Faith Church in Kentwood. "Festival is a lot of work and can be quite a risk," she noted of the uncertainties of both weather and attendance.
"We've had years of cold and rain – even lightning and thunder that have stopped things," she recalled. "But we've had years where the weather was perfect and the crowds were huge."
The Journey church, which meets at Celebration Cinema South, has been doing a food booth for at least seven years. Their menu contains tried and true "American" food items, such as gourmet grilled cheese, cinnamon rolls and root beer floats.
Another challenge is location. "We only know where our booth will be two weeks ahead of time," she noted of the place assignment. This year Journey of Faith is booth #9 on Lyon St. just east of Ottawa Ave.
United Church of Wayland is booth #13, setting up shop on Ottawa in front of the County Courthouse.
Taylor says her Journey of Faith Church has raised anywhere between 2,000 and 6,000 dollars annually during its food sales. Union Church made more than 7,000 dollars last year – its highest ever. They sold approximately a thousand pavlovas. "People come back every year for those," Young smiled.
The Wayland congregation uses the proceeds for mission projects: a monthly mobile food pantry and a Christmas season dinner/gift program for needy families. Last year the church hosted a holiday gathering for families in which one of the parents is incarcerated.
AND THE MUSIC
Several Christian vocal ensembles are back this year: the West Michigan Lutheran Chorale (6pm Fri. on the Indoor Classical stage at the GR Art Museum) and the United Voices of Worship (3pm on the Kendall Stage on Pearl St. near Division Ave).
The classic rock-style, faith-based band Carpenter's Cross gets a 9:30pm Sat. slot on the di Suvero stage west of the Federal Building. "The best part of playing at Festival is the people," said guitarist-vocalist Dave Nelson. "We get to meet and talk to such a wide variety of folks, and it feels like – if only for a day – all of the things that divide us are set aside."