Pies for change

(From left) Volunteers Pam Darling, Martha Barton-Rivera, Joe Rivera and Martha Perkins take a break from pie-baking at the Charlotte Congregational Church. Proceeds from the annual pie sales go toward area nonprofits and, this year, outfitting the church with a new photovoltaic solar system. Photo: Geeda Searfoorce

(From left) Volunteers Pam Darling, Martha Barton-Rivera, Joe Rivera and Martha Perkins take a break from pie-baking at the Charlotte Congregational Church. Proceeds from the annual pie sales go toward area nonprofits and, this year, outfitting the church with a new photovoltaic solar system. Photo: Geeda Searfoorce

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Volunteers at the CCC sell pies to fund solar array at church

By Geeda Searfoorce | The Charlotte News

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, in the sunlit room just outside the Charlotte Congregational Church’s kitchen, Martha Barton-Rivera and her husband, Joe Rivera, boxed up pies that would be available for sale to the public later that day, all to benefit the church and area nonprofits.

The couple has been baking pies at CCC for seven years, since the fall fundraising program started. As part of a 43-person volunteer corps led by the indefatigable Martha Perkins, they wax lyrical about the effect their participation has had on them and the transformative potential it has for the community.

“You see all sorts of people sitting next to you at church, and then you come here and get to spend time together baking,” says Barton-Rivera, who has been coming to CCC for 56 years. “It’s really special.”

But the volunteers who arrive each week—for baking on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. or for selling on Wednesdays and Fridays from 4 to 6 p.m.—aren’t just CCC attendees. Charlotters who want to pitch in, meet others, and work for a local cause, show up to “do good,” in Barton-Rivera’s words. “It’s a wonderful way to get to know your community.”

Pam Darling, a staunch partner to Perkins during the last two years of the pie-selling endeavor, helps out when she is not fixing boats at Darling Boatworks. “Oh, I love it,” she says. “It’s an important part of my year.”

The fundraising impact of the pie program has grown over the years. A portion of the proceeds from this year’s pie sales will go toward outfitting a new solar array that sits, nearing completion, on an adjacent hill. Three years ago the program began the Buy One, Give One initiative, through which a customer can buy one pie for $16 and buy another for a reduced rate of $14 to be taken to an area nonprofit. Organizations that have benefitted from the initiative thus far are the Lund Center, Respite House, Harbor Place and the Ronald McDonald House, among others.

At the heart of the baking enterprise is Perkins, the life force behind the scenes. Whether she’s organizing email orders, perfecting recipes or taking pies out of the big black oven, nicknamed “The Holy Heat,” Perkins seems to draw from a bottomless well of energy. And her dedicated volunteers find her verve infectious.

When asked how she got involved seven years ago, Barton-Rivera pauses while labeling a freshly boxed pie before answering, “Martha is very persuasive.”

The bakers have honed their skills over the course of the last seven years. “We’ve gotten really good at crusts,” Barton-Rivera says. “Martha, can we tell them your secret?” Martha swings her compact frame around and says in a bright cheery tone, “I tell everyone my secret!” Barton-Rivera leans in anyway, as though Perkins is divulging clandestine information, “Apple cider in the crust,” she says with a knowing wink.

A truck from Champlain Orchards delivers apples and cider to the door of the church on Tuesdays and Fridays, so when volunteers arrive they are ready to spring into action. The flurry of activity in the kitchen yields tantalizing smells and tables filled with boxed inventory that sells like hot cakes.

“Now and then we have one or two pies leftover at the end of each week, but a lot of times we sell out,” Perkins says.

On November 11, Martha’s children are coming in from Portland, Boston and right up the road in Charlotte to help their mom with baking. Reflecting on what she loves about the program and what drives her efforts, Perkins flashes a warm smile. “This is the kind of workplace you covet,” she says. “We all do everything, we depend on each other, we’re helping our community, and it’s fun.”

Pies at Charlotte Congregational Church are available on Wednesdays and Fridays until November 15. To place an advance order, send an email to msperkins@gmavt.net and specify whether you’d like to order a two-crust or crumble-top pie.

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