By Kevin O’Connor
Parishioners at Vermont’s First Congregational Church of Newfane know that when local leaves flame orange, countless motorists backed up miles, bumper to bumper, from the center of town, burn red.
But locals have good reason for clogging traffic along the town’s Route 30 artery every Columbus Day weekend: Their annual Heritage Festival on the crowded common rakes in about $35,000, while the area volunteer fire department’s coin drop reaps spare change and small bills adding upward of $10,000 more.
Vermont’s fall foliage is expected to attract 3.5 million visitors, who will spend nearly $500 million in six short weeks, state officials report. But while economists focus on the money made by stores, restaurants and hotels, some community nonprofits are raking in bushels of green through a variety of fundraisers.
People who visit the Dummerston Congregational Church’s 50th Apple Pie Festival on Oct. 13, for example, can sample one of the 1,500 confections that parishioners make and bake before leaving to cool in the pews of the nearly 175-year-old white-clapboard citadel.
“It’s not an appointed or elected committee, but anyone who’s interested,” church member Cindy Wilcox says. “We get lots and lots of people to slice the apples and roll the crusts.”
Volunteers work from morning to night for two full weeks to turn 90 bushels of fruit, 950 pounds of flour and 400 pounds each of sugar and shortening into pies. Baking upward of three dozen pie tins at a time in on-site ovens, they annually prepare for visitors in cars and campers and on motorcycles, who double, if not triple, the town’s usual population of 1,777, all before swallowing up everything in a matter of hours.
The congregation’s reward: about $20,000 — about onefifth of its $100,000 annual budget — to maintain a building that doubles as the town polling place and community center.
“It’s a significant event for us,” church Treasurer John Wilcox said. “We do a lot of charitable work, and we couldn’t do any of it if we didn’t have the money.”
Such sentiments are echoed at the nearby fire department’s pancake breakfast and Evening Star Grange’s craft fair, as well as throughout neighboring Newfane’s 49th Heritage Festival.
The nearly 100-vendor food, arts and crafts event — it’s set to attract an estimated 10,000 people Oct. 12 and 13 to a town of 1,621 — showcases more than color. Since 1971, it also has served as the largest single fundraiser for the Newfane Congregational Church, having collected about $35,000 last year alone.
“That’s one-quarter to onethird of our budget,” church bookkeeper Billie Stark says.
For people stuck in the resulting traffic, the church devotes an entire page on its website to an explanation of how proceeds benefit a historic building that houses everything from after-school programs to Al-Anon meetings to senior meals and blood pressure checks.
“The church is very much committed to supporting the community, and that’s what this goes to,” says Linda Bastian, a parishioner and Heritage Festival chairperson.
Bastian has overseen about 200 volunteers ever since she met the past organizer upon moving to town.
“I said, ‘Tell me about this festival you’re running.’ She said, ‘I’m stepping down, so here.’ “ Bastian knows better now. “We’ll start planning the next one the day after this one.” •
See for yourself …
Dummerston Congregational Church
Intersection of East- West and Middle roads, Dummerston Center, Vt.
Oct. 13, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
49th Heritage Festival
Vt. Route 30, Newfane, Vt.
Oct. 12 and Oct. 13, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Kevin O’Connor is a Vermont native and Brattleboro Reformer contributor.