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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Plastic Bags, Holy Bags

We had a Christmas Bazaar this past Saturday. By all financial accounts, it was a great success, earning more money than last year.

That’s pretty terrific in these fragile economic time. And, as wonderful as that is, I don't want to talk about that.

I want to talk about Plastic Bags.

Yes, we have ‘outside vendors’ who sell everything from handmade bags, exquisite jewelry, luxurious scarves, and other delights. We charge them a fee and a percentage of their total sales. They provide the ‘draw’ into the Bazaar.

However, the keys to the financial success of the Christmas Bazaar really lies with two tables, lovingly referred to as “The Cookie Walk” and “The Soup Czars”.

Many people in the congregation either make one or two huge vats of soup (or soups) and a whole whack of cookies and other pastries. Or, in the case of the rector and other over-achievers, some of both.

The soup is lovingly ladled into plastic quart containers (donated by a member who is a restaurant manager), labeled, and frozen. I have seen people come in and buy ten or twelve quarts of soup and cart them away, happily muttering that at least they are going to eat well during the frenetic days of preparation for Christmas.

Then there are the cookies! Oh, the cookies! We have some very talented baking artists in this community. My favorite is the cookie that looks like a wee candied apple which sits in its own individual little cup and encircled with crushed walnuts. Lovely.

There were also a wide assortment of pastries: an almond upside down gingerbread cake, thick, dark chocolate brownies dusted with powered sugar, yummy peanut butter ‘buckeyes’ and chocolate cupcakes decorated with yummy butter cream frosting, crushed peppermint – some of them with cutout snow men stuck in on toothpicks. Oh, and these little tri-twisted pretzels which had a melted white chocolate kiss and three M&Ms – red, green and chocolate - in them.

Lord, have mercy! You could have gained five pounds and started a cavity on your back tooth just looking at the stuff!

The real success of the Christmas Bazaar, however, is what happens before, during and after the actual event. No, I’m not just talking about the thousands of details that need to be chased down and followed. I’m talking about what happens to people – to a community of people – when everyone works together to make an event like this come together.

Which brings me back to the Plastic Bags.

On Thursday, I got a frantic email from one of the coordinators of the Bazaar. She couldn’t find the plastic bags she had carefully stored from last year. We need them, of course, especially for the soup (see above note about people buying 10-12 quarts). Could we send out a blast email asking folks to bring in their plastic bags from home.

Problem: Randy, our Parish Administrator was taking a few well-deserved days off – the last of his vacation days. His computer has the most up-to-date parish data base. I do not. And, since he carefully monitors the number of blast emails that go out (don’t want people hitting ‘delete’ when they look at the ‘sender’ line because they feel harassed by too many emails), I didn’t think to make a contingency plan while he was away.

I know all about Murphy’s Law. And, I ignore it every time.

Feeling bad, I suggested that perhaps one of the local supermarkets might be happy to give us some plastic bags. Free advertising and all that. The email response was not only swift, but gave some indication of the stress this poor woman was feeling. “I don’t think anyone has time to get plastic bags. Can’t ANYONE send out an email?”

I offered to go get them and offered to send out an email to the Vestry. My Senior Warden beat me to that task. Meanwhile, my Parish Administrator, checking emails from vacation, emailed the updated parish list and my Youth Missioner sent out the Emergency Plea for Plastic Bags. A few moments later, my Senior Warden did the same thing (I could see Randy shaking his head sadly).

Just in case, I went to our local supermarket and got 500 plastic bags. We were ready. I kept them in the trunk of my car, just in case we needed them, but decided to let the community response take first priority.

On Saturday morning, I went ‘round to check on the Soup Czars and the Ladies of the Cookie Walk. In my travels, I cheerily asked if there were enough plastic bags. “Oh, yes, yes,” said everyone. “We’re fine.”

A few hours later, I saw it: Tucked behind the door where the great coolers of soup were stored, there was a HUGE white plastic bag – the kind you get from department stores when you purchase a large, counter top appliance or queen size linens – stuffed to overflowing with plastic grocery bags.

I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing, right then and there.

Plastic bags have gotten a bad rap of late, for not being ‘green’. We can improve that lowly status by recycling them for other use. We can make sure, when their time of service has ended, to dispose of them properly, so they don’t become litter that is dangerous to the environment or to some of the winged or four legged of God's creatures.

I have discovered that there are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace that consist of even more common things than bread and wine, water and oil.

There are plastic bags, which can move beyond mere recycling and become transformed, by the grace and power of community spirit, into outward and visible signs of holy care and support by which we are made richer, more than much fine gold.


motheramelia said...

Elizabeth I love the frozen soup idea. Cookie walks are popular here too. Your community certainly knows how to respond. Sounds like plastic bags for many years to come.

David |Dah • veed| said...

Just reading about it makes me hungry. Perhaps because I have not eaten!

All grocery store plastic bags become small trash can liners in this house. Especially in the bathroom since we cannot flush toilet tissue in this country as the sewer systems cannot handle it.

Joie said...

Elizabeth- Would you mind sharing with me, through e-mail if you like, how your parish works things out with vendors?

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Another use for those of you whose dogs are outside in doghouses during the day.

Take old sleeping bag. Stuff absolutely full of plastic bags. Glue Velcro on the end so it shuts securely. Put sleeping bag full of plastic bags in doghouse.

I do this every year with garage sale sleeping bags and it allows my dog boys to stay out in their doghouse during the day even in subzero weather. They are great insulation for "dog comforters!"

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Wow, Kirke. I'm impressed.

Lindy said...

The things I learn on this site...

Just out of curiosity, is there a proper way to dispose of plastic bags? I re-use, as the others do. And, since they charge for them at the market here in China I take my own to the store. But, what about the thousands I'll never get around to re-using. Aside from doggie beds, what should I do with them?

Kirkepiscatoid said...

I bet Ms. Conroy likes the "dog comforter" idea, too, since she is the only other person I know besides me who keeps "guest leashes" handy!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lindy - Well, here's one suggestion. If they charge for them, and you don't need them, give them to your neighbors.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Joie - I sent you a private email. Let me know if you didn't get it.