BEEMER — Since 2004, the Beemer Mennonite Church’s fall festival was set up as a fundraiser.

The funds raised from the meal, bake sale and auction are awarded back to the community to give assistance wherever it’s needed.

The idea for the meal came about when the church building needed a new elevator to assist its handicapped members and visitors in getting from the front door into the sanctuary.

It was meant to be held only that year. However, members of the Beemer community enjoyed the meal so much that six months later many of them were asking church members if they were going to hold it again. A tradition was born.

That tradition includes a time-honored menu: Beef and gravy, mashed potatoes and corn, much of it home-grown and all of it prepared by members of the congregation, along with a plethora of homemade pies and desserts, salads and rolls.

Served at the town’s American Legion Hall, the event takes place the Saturday evening preceding Thanksgiving. But work for it begins long before that.

Committee chairwoman Joanne Bixler distributes sign-up sheets for everything, involving as many as 25 volunteers who prepare and serve the food, and clean up afterward.

They dream up items to bring for the auction and bake food for the bake sale. Everyone is busy.

Initially, money raised was donated to the Mennonite Central Committee to support mission projects. However, about 10 years ago, the congregation thought with such tremendous community support, the proceeds from the evening would go to alleviate needs within the community.

Those needs have varied from year to year. One year, for example, a check for assistance was presented to a woman who’d lost members of her family in a house fire, along with her home.

Another year, food was purchased for someone surrounded by floodwaters, and in yet another year food was donated to a nearby Indian reservation for a community meal at a time of great loss.

Funds also are earmarked for a weekly children’s ministry, in which a hot meal is served to 20-30 children, many of them outside of the congregation, with the evening filled with Bible lessons, games and crafts.

Most commonly, donations are given to individuals experiencing health-related emergencies, or for utilities, rent, auto repairs or emergency lodging.

“Throughout the year, people let us know of someone who could benefit,” said the Rev. Lewis Miller, pastor, who has served the congregation since the time of the meal’s inception.

He and his wife, Norma, do the clerking for the auction, with an abundance of home-crafted items for sale. These range from homemade jams and jellies to wooden décor, baby quilts and even for this year, a 4-foot-high Christmas crèche.

Local businesses donate items for the auction along with cash donations. Mary Lyon, for example, offered the use of the Beemer Café’s automatic potato peeler, making light work of a task that would have taken many hours for several people to complete.

The event is a wonderful way to connect with the community, Miller said. It’s also a blessing for the church itself.

“It’s the highlight of our year even though it’s a lot of work,” Miller said. “It’s a great time of fellowship with the community and with each other.”

The Beemer Mennonite Church is not a large congregation, but it surely has a big impact upon the entire community.

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