GREENFIELD — It began with a card table full of baked goods on the sidewalk along West Main Street.
Brigette Cook Jones remembers working with her grandmother at the stand in front of Miller’s Jewelry when it was located in downtown Greenfield. They were raising money for the women’s guild at Westland Friends Church.
In its early days, the Riley Festival was more of a sidewalk sale event, such as its precursor, Old-Fashioned Days, said Cook Jones, who now oversees the county’s tourism efforts at the new visitors center.
Fine jewelry could not easily be set outdoors for sale, though; so the owners of Miller’s Jewelry, members of Westland Friends, offered the space to the church, she said.
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The booth has lasted through the decades, and with proceeds made at the festival, the guild has donated to local and global mission work.
The church’s booth is set up these days in a white tent on the south side of West Main Street near Greenfield City Hall. The church offers craft items, fall decorations, bags of noodles handmade by the congregation and member Linda Reed’s renowned peanut butter fudge. It sells so well “she can’t make it fast enough,” Cook Jones said.
The Westland Friends booth, offering free helium balloons to children as well as an invitation to an upcoming Trunk or Treat, is just one example of a local church that reaches out during the Riley Festival. Congregations greet thousands of festival-goers each year, often raising money to help others along the way and also simply letting their neighbors know they’re welcome at a service or special event.
On the north side of the Hancock County Courthouse lawn, parishioners at the St. Michael Catholic Church and School booth will give away light rain ponchos.
“We had them last year, and it didn’t rain,” Howard Green wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter. “I’m hoping the rain will stay away again this year.”
Green said there’s no fundraiser at the booth; members staffing it simply want to have conversations with festival-goers, answer any questions they have about St. Michael and invite them to Mass at 519 Jefferson Blvd.
At the northeast edge of the festival booths, Greenfield Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is offering festival-goers free water and Bibles from a welcome tent set up outside the church at 23 N. East St. Youth are selling bent-nail cross necklaces to raise money for a 2018 mission trip. The church women’s group is selling its cookbook, raising money for contributions it makes to local organizations, particularly those that protect women and children, such as Alternatives.
Inside, the church men’s group is serving a Saturday morning (Oct. 7) pancake breakfast from 7:30-10, also raising money it will donate to projects it supports. The women’s boutique of gently used items and a bake sale continue today (Oct. 7) from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“It’s food to nibble on while you’re walking around the festival,” said Sharon Feister, president of the women’s group.
At the other end of the festival booths, Bradley United Methodist Church has its own traditional Riley Festival plans. Each year on the Friday of the festival, the congregation serves a meal featuring burgers with sides homemade by church members. Beef, pork and turkey burgers were cooked on grills set up outside the church.
“You can smell the good smells as you walk down the sidewalk,” said Jan Tarwater, who coordinates the volunteers.
Ingredients were donated by individuals in the congregation, so more of the money raised can go to local missions such as Hope House and Love INC, as well as global work in Africa and Guatemala.
About 35-40 volunteers make the cooking, serving and cleanup happen each year, Tarwater said.
A bake sale and bazaar by the United Methodist Women also were slated for Friday at the church, 210 W. Main St., and continue today (Oct. 7) from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Also selling items at the festival are members of Shiloh Christian Church in Blue River Township, who peddle Rada kitchen knives and hand-crafted items from the church’s booth on the west side of South State Street, a little south of city hall. Tomato knives are popular there.
“We always sell all of those every year,” said booth organizer Billie Giddings.
Shiloh members sign up for five-hour shifts at the festival. Over the years, money from the booth has paid for some remodeling at the church — new carpet, paint, baseboards and pew coverings, Giddings said.
Booths are not the only way churches participate in the festival. Some offer venues; the Mayor’s Breakfast is taking place at Trinity Park United Methodist Church this year. Some enter floats in the parade — or in the case of Realife Church, three.
One float will carry a worship band from the church, performing two alternating songs as the float passes parade-goers. The hour spent on the parade float is enough time to perform each song six or seven times, said Ashley Lusby, director of events for the church. Some members in Realife shirts will walk in the parade and pass out candy, while the other two floats will hold children doing motions that go with the songs.
“People will get a little taste of what we do on a Sunday,” Lusby said. “Being a church inside the community, it’s a great opportunity to get out there and let people know that we’re here and we love them.”