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Holiday craft fairs and bake sales build community

By John Weiss, December 20, 2023

Jeremy Pederson looks for baked goods to buy at Preston's Christ Lutheran Church craft fair and bake sale. (Photos by John Weiss)

Holiday craft fairs and bake sales build community


Seasonal crafts, baked goods, and lots of revelry highlight the dozens — if not hundreds — of community bazaars and holiday ‘bake sales’ held throughout the Root River valley each December. But more than anything, these gatherings are about the people and their shared seasonal joy!  


PRESTON — Christ Lutheran Church in Preston was quiet at 8:15 a.m. December 2 as Mary Zimmerman put out the final plates of cookies, scones, Norwegian confections and other goodies in anticipation of what would happen in 45 minutes.

Throughout the lower area, other bake goods, crafts and holiday gifts were on other tables or hanging from rods for the big event that coincides with the start of Advent — an unofficial start of the Christmas season around Preston.

Long before the doors opened, Mary Zimmerman put final touches on one of many tables stacked with goodies for this annual craft and bake sale.

Hundreds of church members spent thousands of hours over weeks, some months, to fill the basement, all culminating at 9 a.m. when the doors would open for the annual holiday craft/bake sale.

To be sure, it is a major fundraiser for groups that over the past few years have included the local food shelf, Luther Seminary, infant rescue center, ELCA Disaster Relief and helping relieve medical debt.

They typically raise about $10,000; this year, they got a great start with $3,200 in advanced raffle ticket sales for a quilt Zimmerman made.

Like so many other events like this, it’s about more than money. In fact, listening to those who made, those who served and those who bought, money didn’t come right away if at all.

Instead, they said it’s a chance to meet others, practice their faith and have fun.

“I’ve been involved at church all my life,” Zimmerman said. “I just like it, this type of stuff. I find a lot of enjoyment in it.” And she gets to see people she doesn’t see often.

Zipping around, taking care of final details, was Barb Mielke, co-chair of the event who hadn’t yet put on her Santa hat.

This is the third such sale but the idea goes back to 1958 when the church began a lutefisk dinner, she said. It was stopped for a while then restarted in 1999 and stopped again.

Co-chairs Alison Leathers and Barb Mielke celebrate in style!

“Our congregation is aging and it was getting harder and harder to put on a full dinner,” Mielke said.

It later restarted as the craft/bake sale. People make things at home or in groups and donate them to the event, she said.

A new, and popular item is porch pots that are old pots, milk cans and other things with greenery in them and some festive decoration. As the name hints, they are made to be outside on the porch.

Norwegian goods and foods, which are often made beginning in October, are often bought first, she said. Some buy for themselves, or sometimes as gifts for teachers or babysitters.

While most goodies are baked in the final few days before the sale, Christ Crafters meet twice a month annually to make crafts and plan for the sale.  They also donate stuffed animals for patients at Mayo Clinic or baskets of necessities for shut-ins, Mielke said. But “the bulk of what we do is focused on today.”


Some of the gifts made by children in the congregation>


Part Fundraiser, Part Heritage

In the kitchen, two women were making Norwegian rommegrot, a pudding with butter, milk and flour that was being offered for sampling. Rebecca Schwingle, who was melting butter, said it’s part fundraiser but “it’s part of our heritage.”

Her family, including her aunt Darla Ebner who was precisely measuring flour, has been doing it for many years, back to the days of lutefisk dinners when they would make 35 batches. “This is literally our station,” Schwingle said. “This is something I can offer. I’m not crafty but I can bake and cook.”

She insisted I try it. I did WITH CINNAMON SUGAR. It tastes like, like, hmmm. It tastes like nothing I’ve tasted before but I liked it (I did taste lutefisk many years ago in Kenyon and hated it but loved the Swedish meatballs).

Rebecca Schwingle stirs butter for another pot of rommegrot while her aunt, Darla Ebner, measures the flour.

At 8:55 a.m. people were gathering outside.

“Man your stations,” said Mielke who put on her Santa hat. Co-chair Alison Leathers was standing nearby, ready for the doors to open.

“I’ve been doing it every year,” Leathers said. “It’s fun to serve, fun to be involved” and to help the church’s mission. She misses the lutefisk dinners.

Two-year-old Marlow Ristau examines a bracelet she wanted her grandmother, Kristin Schwier, to buy.

At 9 sharp, the doors open. There was no Black Friday stampede – this is small-town Minnesota after all – but people did come in and many seemed to know exactly where to go and what to buy.

Jeremy Pederson of Preston was quick to head for the baked goods. “I always come down here,” he said. “I like cutouts, I like large cutout cookies,” he said. It’s a tradition for him. He had three items in the box and was checking for more. How many will he buy? “We will see,” he said.

Marlow Ristau, 2, was surrounded by adults but didn’t seem to care as she looked at items with her grandmother, Kristin Schweir of Fountain. The little one clutched a cookie and a bracelet. “I’m here for the Norwegian baked goods,” grandma said. “It’s wonderful. I can’t make those things, I come here to enjoy the good food.”

Amanda Dempewolf helps her daughters, Maggie and Lily, decide which basket of goodies to buy.

Nearby Amanda Dempewolf of Harmony and her daughters, Maggie, 18, and Lily, 12, were perusing another table. “This is our church,” mom said. Maggie was also there to help little ones make igloos out of marshmallows, candy and frosting. At the table, Maggie wanted a little basket with candy while her sister looked at one with cocoa. Mom was looking for red mittens. “I like red,” she said. 

The event “means joy to me, brings a lot of people together, helps support the church,” mom said.

Oliver Kling-Punt, 11, helps Martha Quanrud carry items bought at the craft/bake sale to her car.

Meanwhile, Oliver Kling-Punt, 11, dressed rather festively, was helping people carry porch pots or other items to cars. The Lanesboro youth was there with mom and dad, Sara and Ryan. He liked it, “just working with my dad,” he said. “It’s fun” because he’s with mom and dad and “it’s nice to bring things out to people’s cars.”

As for mom, she said they belong to the church and “it’s a lot of fun to be an active members … it’s fun to see all the people.” It’s the beginning of Advent.

Meanwhile, back at the igloo-making in a side room, Emry Peterson, 7, of Preston was hard at work designing the perfect igloo. He will eat it “if I want to.”

In the main area, Janet Erdman, another leader, was busy making sure the table with jams and jellies was well stocked. The event is going well but she and other leaders said they will later evaluate what sold and what didn’t sell and make changes for the 2024 event. 

“It’s building community,” she said. “It’s a little bit of mission work for us.”

Around 10:15 a.m. it was time for me to leave. More people were coming in, more leaving with more goodies.

Because I had a long long drive back to Rochester, I bought three cranberry-orange scones. One must be prepared.




John Weiss was a full-time reporter for the Rochester Post-Bulletin for 41 years and wrote the Back Roads column for more than 10 years. His passions include hunting, fishing, birding, nature photography, hiking and just kicking around.

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