Pennsylvania Easter egg project sweetens church, community life

Schwarzwald United Church of Christ of Reading, Pa. is in the Easter egg business. For more than 70 years, the congregation has been making homemade chocolate candy during Lent. The Egg Project is annually the congregation’s biggest fundraiser.

Egg Project volunteers roll out peanut butter filling for Easter eggs in the social hall at Schwarzwald United Church of Christ, Reading, Pa.

Every Thursday, from the day after Ash Wednesday until the week before Palm Sunday, church volunteers gather to create chocolate eggs which they sell by the pound.

Linda Brensinger has been leading the effort since 2015.

“The Egg Project started in the early 1950s in the parsonage kitchen before the egg-making efforts outgrew the space and moved to the church’s kitchen and social hall,” she said. “We make eggs for six weeks. Orders have to be in on Wednesdays, and we make the candy on Thursdays,” noting that her team of 35 was making 270 pounds on March 16.

Schwarzwald church members offer two varieties of chocolate eggs — coconut and peanut butter — which sell for $12 a pound. Buyers can order one flavor or a variety of both.

Many roles

Most of the orders are taken the old school way: by phone. “We have five point people that collect all of the orders each week and report their totals to our coordinator to figure out the total amount of materials we need to make the eggs,” Brensinger said. “This year, we started online orders, but phone orders still constitute more than 95% of our sales.”

The candy makers, she said, “just show up every Thursday, since we’ve been doing this a while,” and they have lots of different job titles. She’s known as the Head Egg.

Linda Brensinger, Head Egg, with Joe DiCindio, Schwarzwald UCC’s previous music director. He helps coat the eggs.

“We have mixers who blend the candy; rollers who shape the eggs; coaters who cover them in chocolate; packers who assemble the boxes; and runners who move them around.”

The place was especially busy on that Thursday in mid-March — week four of their assembly line — because the Easter egg team was working to fill orders for 100 pounds more than the week before. They attributed that big jump in orders to an article in the local paper.

But despite the large task at hand, Brensinger said they were also going to take time to celebrate a birthday. “Our oldest volunteer — Alma Loeb, one of our coaters — just turned 95. We got her a cake.”

The average age of the egg makers is 77 years old, with volunteers ranging from 54 to Alma, at 95.

Funds church projects

The group has faithfully created chocolate confections during Lent every year, Brensinger said — except during COVID.

The Schwarzwald United Church of Christ Egg Project’s coconut egg assembly line.

“We had to stop in 2020 after three weeks, and of course we couldn’t do it at all in 2021.”

The team has also weathered other challenges — like losing the support of a shuttered local grocery store. “We made $16,000 in 2019 because the store carried our eggs,” Brensinger said. “That stopped when the store closed. But we still do OK.”

She backed up that statement with orders that seemed to grow as the fundraiser progressed. On March 23 — week five of the project — the Schwarzwald egg makers turned out 290 pounds of candy.

The children of Schwarzwald UCC watch the work of Egg Project volunteers very carefully.

“The effort is hosted by the church guild, which routinely contributes $5,000 to $10,000 per year to the church capital improvement projects, telephone bills, upkeep of the kitchen appliances and maintenance of the boiler,” Bresinger said. “In the past few years, the Egg Project helped to install new audio and video equipment, reseal the parking lot, install new LED lighting throughout the church and repaint the exterior woodwork of the church building.”

It’s also a community event that the people in Reading and beyond look forward to every Easter.

“We receive requests before and after the Egg Project every year,” said Bresinger. “It seems that sometimes we cannot make enough eggs each week to keep up with the demand. We also have family and friends who request eggs to be mailed to them. This year we sent eggs to Virginia, Washington and Hawaii.”

“Church members and non-members get involved. It’s a place where anyone is welcome,” said Gordon Araujo, president of the church consistory. “It’s good for the church; it gives people a way to contribute, and it’s good for the community.”

Joy in fellowship

At the packing table, Easter eggs are weighed and boxed by the pound, prepared for pickup and distribution.

Araujo pointed out that Schwarzwald UCC, which started as a German Reformed congregation in 1737, is in the midst of a revitalization campaign that informally launched with the pandemic.

“For us as a congregation, COVID was a blessing in disguise. It allowed us to get back to community and fellowship. We had people come back to church that we haven’t seen in a long time,” he said, referencing the creative ways leadership set up to keep members connected during the shutdown. There are now four ways congregants can access Sunday worship — in-person, Zoom, YouTube and a script of the service mailed to those unable to otherwise attend.

“We’ve decided to say we’re not going to die — we are going to do something different,” Araujo said. “We want future generations to be a part of this church. It’s hard work. I’m thankful that the 70, 80, 90 year olds are still willing to work, rolling up their sleeves and pitching in.”

“I personally started helping with the Egg Project when I retired from St. Joseph’s Hospital in 2009. Many of our volunteers start after retirement as a good way to support the church and community. The lady before me, May Fry, ran the sale until she was 99,” Bresinger said, noting that she herself was 80, “and I certainly won’t be doing it that long!

“It brings a lot of our volunteers joy to be in fellowship with each other while also working to help the church fund opportunities for our members and community.”

There should be a lot of happy people in Reading on Easter morning — on March 30, their sixth and last week, the Egg project volunteers made 390 pounds of candy, bringing the 2023 total to 1,450 pounds of Easter eggs.

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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