Despite John Wesley’s historic counsel that “for studious persons, about eight ounces of animal food and 12 of vegetable in 24 hours is sufficient,” delegates and visitors to the 2004 General Conference of the United Methodist Church will enjoy sugary snacks during breaks at the April 27-May 7 worldwide gathering here.
Providing the estimated 82,500 homemade cookies for the nearly 1,000 delegates and some 4,000 volunteers, staff and visitors to the legislative assembly wasn’t a simple matter.
Because the caterer for the David L. Lawrence Convention Center has an exclusive contract, under normal circumstances absolutely no food can be brought in to the venue. Event organizers had to engage in extensive negotiations and specific rules had to be agreed upon before convention center officials would waive the rule and allow donated snacks to be served. General Conference officials had to promise that none of the cookies or other snacks would be purchased. The cookies had to be unloaded from delivery vehicles by convention center employees and served by catering staff.
Once permission was granted, bakers were recruited in the United Methodist 900 churches throughout western Pennsylvania. Plans were drawn up to uniformly package fresh cookies, label them and get them to the convention center during the event.
Ovens in homes and churches were fired up as bakers brought out their favorite recipes.
At Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park, south of Pittsburgh, for example, an army of volunteers reported for kitchen duty last week. The Rev. Brian Bauknight, senior pastor, monitored the making and packaging of nearly 4,000 cookies.
As the chair of the General Conference host committee, Bauknight offered to taste the treats, perhaps to maintain quality control. “They wouldn’t give me a sample,” he lamented. “I had to wait until they dropped one, pick it up and invoke the ‘five-second rule.’ It was delicious with a cup of hot coffee.”
Volunteer bakers were permitted to use their own recipes, but no creative packaging was allowed after cookies came out of the ovens. Convention center rules required cookies to be placed in sealable plastic bags, three to a pack, labeled and placed in pizza boxes for delivery.
“The pizza boxes fit perfectly on those trays that the caterers use to move food around,” said Dottie Crooks of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Allison Park, who chairs the Refreshment Services Committee with Kitt MacMichael and Lois Albright, also of St. Paul’s. Each pizza box can hold six to eight dozen cookies.
Figuring out the cookie logistics fell to the trio. They recruited volunteer coordinators in each of the church’s 11 districts in Western Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference. Each district was asked to gather at least 625 dozen cookies and get them to the convention center at a specified day and time.
“There was panic at first,” Crooks admitted, “but it’s all settled down. We started out with no money. Some churches are donating labels and baggies or getting other items instead of baking so the cost has been spread around.
“It’s been a pretty positive experience and it’s taken in all kinds of people,” said Crooks.
One of those people is the Rev. Robert Higginbotham, superintendent of the Kane District, the area farthest from Pittsburgh. Later in the week, he’ll load his Honda with pizza boxes from five gathering points in the district in northwestern Pennsylvania and head for the convention center.
Most of the bakers are women, but Paul McCormick created a lot of the cookies that were contributed by the Garden City United Methodist Church in Monroeville.
“Paul inherited the baking gene from his mother,” said his wife, Lodi. “He always bakes all the Christmas cookies for our family and makes the most luscious fruit cake. The ones for General Conference are Cherry Winks, which are really healthy since they contain Rice Krispies, coconut and oatmeal.” Perhaps Wesley would approve.
*Campbell is a staff writer for the United Methodist Church’s Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference.
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