A sign outside the entrance to the Vallonia Gym promised “plenty of good home cooking.”
Inside the gym, people went through the cafeteria line, first choosing a hot dog, a coney dog, a ham sandwich or a Western. Then they could pick up a bowl of chili or vegetable soup. Lastly, they were tempted with a piece of homemade pie or cake.
For all 48 years of Fort Vallonia Days, conducted the third weekend of October in Jackson County’s oldest community, Vallonia Christian Church’s food stand has been a popular attraction.
“We have the same thing every year, and I think it’s just stuff that people don’t typically get,” said Jay Grider, a church member who oversees the nearly 30 people who work at the food stand.
“It’s not the carnival food. Everything is homemade,” he said.
Plus, people know they are helping a good cause. The church uses half of the nearly $3,500 it raises to fund mission projects, while the other half will go toward a new air conditioning unit for the church.
“There are several missions we support,” Grider said. “Those are local, too. Hoosier Christian Village is a big one, and Hilltop Christian Camp.”
All of the food is donated by church members. Chili, vegetable soup and homemade pies are the big sellers, Grider said.
Even though the festival is Saturday and Sunday, the church’s food stand is only open Saturday.
“I like spending time with everybody else,” Grider said. “We don’t have a lot of group things that we do together, so it gives us a chance to interact with everybody.”
Another Vallonia congregation, Driftwood Christian Church, sold food during the annual festival.
While this was only the church’s third year with a booth, its hot dogs, beans and cornbread were strong sellers.
Troy Thompson, co-chairman of the booth with Bryan Hansome, started cooking beans at 7 a.m. Saturday, and they were ready to serve around 10:30 a.m. Driftwood Township Volunteer Fire Department let the church use its cast iron kettle, which holds more than 40 pounds of beans.
“We’ll go through that in one day and probably quit,” Hansome said. “We start fresh every day.”
Hansome said church members donate the food and drinks to sell at the booth. Thompson said they have averaged making between $800 and $1,200 the past two years.
Proceeds are used to help church members go on mission trips. The Fort Vallonia Days food booth kicks off fundraising for the trips, Thompson said.
The church has worked with Mission Journeys of Lexington, Kentucky, the past couple of years to determine where to perform mission work.
“We’ll have a few church dinners this winter, and then we’ll talk to Mission Journeys and decide where to go to,” Thompson said.
It costs about $350 per person to go on the mission trip. The food booth fundraiser helps provide a good down payment, Hansome said.
“Usually, everybody kicks in $50 if they can just so you have some ownership in it,” he said. “But our team puts in the rest, and if someone can’t afford that, we just pay it off. We’re not going to keep anybody from going.”
The church’s mission team, which consists of about 20 people, has gone to New Orleans, Louisiana, a couple of times, including to help with Hurricane Katrina cleanup efforts. They also have gone to Texas, West Virginia and Kentucky.
“We usually do some construction, we do some work in the churches themselves and programs, whatever we can do,” Hansome said. “It’s kind of geared more toward helping people out if they need a project done. We’re open to about anything.”
On a trip to West Virginia, the mission team worked on a woman’s trailer. Hansome said she couldn’t believe they weren’t getting paid for their work.
“I said, ‘Actually, we paid to come over here to help you,'” he said. “It just gives everybody an opportunity to go out and serve. Until you go and do it, it’s hard to understand the response you get from people.”
Thompson went on one of the trips to New Orleans and said it was a great experience meeting people and hearing their stories.
“Even though we’re there being the hands and feet of Jesus and trying to show God’s love, they almost minister to us by sharing their stories and how they feel to have us there,” he said. “That’s very impactful.”
The mission team also has helped frame a house and put on a Bible school program for Latinos.
Being a member of the church is not required to go on a mission trip, Hansome said.
“It’s just a blessing being able to serve,” he said.
The mission team plans to keep doing its booth at Fort Vallonia Days.
“The church is down the road from here, and it’s a part of the community, and it’s just good to be a part of the festival and let people see what we do as a church,” Hansome said. “It’s kind of an outreach for us to let people know what we do. We’re not just enclosed in one building. We go out and try to help other people. We help people in the community, too.”