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Raising Funds for Relief Society in London, England

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 16, 2008

In these days of relative prosperity – and despite whatever the stock market does today, we still live in relative prosperity – where our chapels and ward budgets are provided with little effort on the local level, it can be inspiring to remember the creativity and devotion of earlier generations who raised funds for charitable work through almost constant efforts. Florence R. Vincent of the South London Branch reported to the Millennial Star some of the activities her Relief Society engaged in during the late 1920s.

Their small branch needed the funds, too. Besides the occasional needs of young mothers and the sick, the branch was caring for eight members who were too elderly to attend meetings any longer, and they had two members who were hospitalized for long periods.

As did Relief Societies in the U.S., the London sisters made quilts for use by needy members and for sale to raise funds. Material for some of the quilts came from knitted clothing donated by sisters. The Relief Society dyed the clothing to suit their designs, then unraveled the items to make what Sister Vincent called “woolly quilts” – I do not know whether that means they re-knit the yarn into quilt covers, or whether the yarn was recrafted in some other way.

Some of their quilts were made from silk (not nylon) stockings that were donated after runs made them unsuitable for wear – the stockings were cut open along the back seams, and quilt patches were cut from sections of the silk without runs; the silk was dyed, sewn into quilt tops, and lined with plain fabric to make them strong. Sister Vincent was proud that none of their quilts had cost the Relief Society so much as a penny – the sisters had donated all of the materials. At the time she wrote, they had enough leftover fabric on hand to make four dresses for some children in the branch who needed clothing.

The branch held socials to raise money, too. For one event, Sister Vincent made 83 paper roses which were tied to real branches to resemble a rosebush in bloom. With the help of a particularly attractive girl in the branch, the roses were sold as boutonnieres for a penny each. One of the roses had a number penciled on it in an inconspicuous place, and the lucky one who purchased that rose won a small paper model of a covered wagon and ox team, filled with candy. (The money from this project was earmarked for the care of a young brother confined in a sanitarium, who had just lost his mother and now had no living relatives.)

This may have been the same social where the sisters sold lemonade for a penny a glass. Then someone had the bright idea to start calling it “The Spirit of St. Louis” in honor of the teetotaling Charles Lindberg, whose trans-Atlantic flight took place in 1927. The sisters made “a rare fuss” over the rechristened drink and raised the price to sixpence a glass.

Perhaps inspired by the parable of the talents, another fundraising event involved giving each participant a shilling, and asking her to find a way to increase its value during the following two weeks. Sister Vincent went to a warehouse and purchased handkerchiefs “cheaper than wholesale,” then visited shops and sold the handkerchiefs at wholesale prices. “The profit was very small, and I had to sell a good many to make much,” she reported – but she did turn a profit, which she turned into the Relief Society fund.

Then the sisters solicited suggestions for ways to improve their Relief Society meetings. The catch was that each suggestion had to be accompanied by a donated penny. Some of the sisters really got into the spirit of the fundraiser, sending in multiple – paid – suggestions. A small prize was given to the sister who submitted the idea that was first to be incorporated by the branch: “After Relief meeting, instead of talking too long, all the sisters who wish to could practise a few songs, in preparation for a little entertainment to be given at the workhouses.” The sisters planned to give Thursday and Saturday charity concerts during the coming holiday season.

In honor of Pioneer Day one year, the branch appointed three young sisters to collect funds for picnic baskets to be given to the elderly members of the branch who could not attend the branch picnic. Sister Vincent seemed especially pleased that the entire project was turned over to these young girls, to develop their talents in organization and selection, and “we were very pleased with the way the young sisters managed” to fill their baskets with cocoa, condensed milk, rice, eggs, oranges, bananas and cookies.

It was not all labor for the Relief Society sisters, though, and I love the assertive way they arranged for their own entertainment: “Sometimes when we have an open night in the Relief Society meetings, we invite all the brethren and all of our non-“Mormon” friends. We ask the brethren to give us a little surprise. They do all the entertaining for us that night, and the sisters serve refreshments.”

I remember the Relief Society bazaars that my mother and her friends used to work for months to prepare, but which were a thing of the past before I was old enough to participate (well, to do more, that is, than take my allowance to buy the wonderful homemade candy and home-sewn Barbie doll clothes, some of which – the clothes, not the candy – I still have). And I remember fundraisers to pay for a new chapel – my child’s memory suggests that they were mainly food-related, although surely there were other activities as well. These included bake sales, for which my mother made specialty breads or elaborate cut-up cakes decorated with candies and coconut and licorice whips to look like castles and lions and clowns. Mom made the baked goods, but it was Dad’s job to deliver them to the bake sale – family lore says he never came home from a delivery run without having bought back some of Mom’s bread. Then there were the dime-a-dip dinners, with all the food brought potluck-style by ward members who cheerfully paid ten cents for every spoonful of their own donations that they heaped back on their dinner plates. Do you remember others?

Today’s methods are certainly more efficient – rather than pouring labor into the making of paper roses or baked goods for fundraisers, we can pour the same energy into assembling humanitarian aid kids or painting houses or working directly with those whom the fundraisers were ultimately intended to aid. Still, the creativity and effort of sisters who managed to raise charitable funds during the days of our poverty as a church need to be remembered and honored.



14 Comments »

  1. Dime a dip dinners and RS bazaars, yes, I remember them. Some of the women brought bottles of home-canned goods to sell, and I remember looking at some of the bottles (corn relish, mustard pickles) and wondering who in the world would eat stuff like that.

    I also remember carnivals where they had a fish pond, staffed by the youth of the ward. We primary kids threw a line tied to a yardstick over the quilt and waited for a tug. Then when you pulled back, there was a small toy or piece of candy attached to the string with a clothespin. It was magical.

    Once our stake had a day long carnival on the football field at the high school on the 4th of July. It was intended to be a fundraiser, and the entire town was invited. I remember asking my Dad quite seriously why all those non-members and inactives were invited to come and have all the fun when they didn’t even come to church. I thought attendance at the carnival should have been a reward for being good, and now they were going to let in all those smokers and coffee drinkers.

    Last weekend, the Catholic church in our neighborhood had its Fall carnival. They had rides, a moonwalk, and lots of food for sale. I hope they made their goal, and it sure looked like a lot of fun for the younger set. But for people my age, it just looked like a lot of work, enough to wear you out.

    Comment by Mark Brown — October 16, 2008 @ 8:49 am

  2. Mark, I had forgotten about the fish ponds! They were fun, weren’t they? As I walked past the open garage door of one of my non-Mormon neighbors the other day, I saw what had to have been a booth for that kind of carnival, freshly painted, so maybe one of the other churches in this area is having a fair soon. Lots of work. I think some of us would still be up to it, but I wonder if such a thing were proposed now whether the it’s-too-much-work side would carry the day.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 16, 2008 @ 9:54 am

  3. Loved the fish pond as a kid. My kids think they’re great too!

    That rose bush would definitely fall into the too-much-work category, but still it must have been pretty.

    Comment by Jami — October 16, 2008 @ 10:36 am

  4. I also loved the fish pond.

    Comment by Edje — October 16, 2008 @ 10:39 am

  5. It’s unanimous. BRING BACK THE FISHPOND!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 16, 2008 @ 10:48 am

  6. You’ll be happy to know that here the annual stake carnival (held in a city park every August) includes the fish pond, the bean-bag toss, lollipop pull, other old-fashioned games (along with music and magic performers, and the bishopric pie-eating contest). All games and activities (and food: hot-dogs, sno-cones, cotton-candy and a buffet of chips & cookies) are free and open to the public.

    Comment by Coffinberry — October 16, 2008 @ 1:16 pm

  7. Bazaars. I haven’t thought of them in years. Thanks for refreshing my memory, not only of this but other things you remind me of, as well.

    Fish ponds. I remember not only the thrill of tossing the line over the sheet and waiting to see what I “caught,” but also the anticipation of being being old enough to be on the other side, and help pick the prizes.

    Comment by Yet Another John — October 16, 2008 @ 2:39 pm

  8. My favorite activity at the R.S. bazaar was always the cake walk (or sometimes a cupcake walk), a game akin to musical chairs.

    In our ward in Meridian, Mississippi in the mid-70s, the favorite fundraising activity was a big fish fry, complete with hushpuppies. It was truly a cultural experience.

    I don’t really miss all the work of these activities, but they were a fun way to bring people together, both member and non-member.

    Comment by CatherineWO — October 16, 2008 @ 3:33 pm

  9. Yes, Coffinberry, I’m happy to know that, and I want to drop by.

    And YAJ, you point out something about traditions that I think is very important: When we know that something is going to be repeated regularly, we not only look forward to its return, but also look forward to assuming new roles as we grow into them (even if the new role is to step aside and let somebody else do the work — my mother claimed that as a significant role when I started doing the Thanksgiving dinner).

    Catherine, sometime we should have a thread devoted to all the different types of ward dinners we have enjoyed. I hadn’t thought of the different regions having different kinds, but fish fries would be hard to pull off in Utah, and I’ll bet there are others I can’t imagine, too.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 16, 2008 @ 3:36 pm

  10. Catherine,

    Two weeks ago I attended an LDS fish fry about 150 miles south on I-59 from Meridian. It was delish – catfish, hush puppies, and really good cole slaw. Our ward also sponsors a crawfish boil in the Spring.

    Comment by Mark Brown — October 16, 2008 @ 3:47 pm

  11. Ever since I learned that people in other parts of the country don’t eat hush puppies, I’ve felt very sad for them. I introduced two friends from California to the concept and they both love it! What’s not to love about deep fried cornbread balls with chopped onions mixed in? Everyone should try hush puppies. They’re fun to say and even more fun to eat. =)

    The best hush puppies I ever had were at a restaurant called warehouse #1 in Monroe, Louisiana. They bring big baskets of them to the table as soon as you sit down. They were so good they brought tears to our eyes. I think we ate 3 or 4 basketfuls before dinner came. Y’all should all travel there just to taste those hush puppies.

    Comment by Tatiana — October 16, 2008 @ 7:05 pm

  12. About 200 miles north of me (in southern Indiana) my sisters’ ward does a “pitch-in.” Where I grew up it was called a “pot luck.” There doesn’t appear to be much difference in what people serve; a few casseroles with way to many ingredients and the rest is bought instead of made. Here in Nashville, someone always makes a wonderful barbeque with cole slaw and sometimes okra. In Maryland we had pit beef and crab cakes at our ward dinners. And there are fish frys around the Mississippi delta (the hush puppies sound good). What else is there?

    Comment by BruceC — October 17, 2008 @ 8:51 am

  13. Mexican — with more or less authenticity — is a favorite in some of the places I’ve lived in the west. Aside from that, I can’t recall anything but generic American food, in large quantities. Hmm. I may do another post drawing on my mother’s collection of foods that could be easily prepared in large quantities, since she was often in charge of ward dinners. (And that menu is not at all limited to green jello, ham, over-boiled green beans, and funeral potatoes! I can’t believe we’ve got this far into a discussion without a mention of those!)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 17, 2008 @ 9:22 am

  14. green jello, ham, over-boiled green beans, and funeral potatoes

    I don’t think any of those were served at any of the ward dinner/pot luck events I have been to in the last year. Somehow, I feel deprived of my rich Mormon heritage.

    Comment by BruceC — October 17, 2008 @ 10:35 am

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