By Brett Hetherington*
When you think of the season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s a lot of different foods come to mind. Turkey, ham, side dishes too many to name, pies, cookies, and candies of all kinds. At Christ United Methodist Church (Tuscarawas District) in Alliance, the candy of choice is peanut brittle – a sweet and salty treat that the congregation makes each year to fund ministries for the community.
“This all started with the Builders Sunday School Class back in 1967,” shared Dick Diser, who heads up the peanut brittle-making project with his wife Susan. Together, they’ve watched the endeavor grow from a simple fundraiser into something more for the church as a whole.
“The Builders Class started this, and then our class joined in 1978. The youth in the church joined in 1979 and we have been doing this together as a church every year since,” he said. “Last year we even had a new Young Adult Sunday School class join in this tradition with us.”
To date, church members have sold over 70,000 cans of peanut brittle!
Groups gather on several afternoons and evenings throughout November to cook and package the peanut brittle. During those times, conversations start with surface level topics such as sports, TV and movies, and grow deeper in discussion. “We will often get into talking about church, life, grandchildren,” Diser said. “We use this time to really grow together as a family. People feel committed, and it is a can’t-miss time of service. This camaraderie is perhaps the most important part of what we do together.”
Mike Greiner, who serves as the Youth Fellowship co-leader, shared, “We made peanut brittle three Sundays this year, and the youth really enjoyed it. We have been blessed with a group of cookers and eaters.”
The tradition that began as a fundraiser for the church has turned outward in the years since its inception. Over each of the past five years the church has made and sold more peanut brittle than the year before, averaging nearly 700 cans. Sunday School class participants decide together how best to distribute the funds that are raised each year.
“We started with gift baskets for the more needy in our congregation and community members,” Diser said. “We have since moved on to gift cards, and then we give some to organizations such as the Salvation Army, the Food Pantry, and other ministries in the area.”
Over the past 50 years, the sale of peanut brittle has generated just shy of $150,000. After the initial purchase of Christmas baskets for needy congregants and community members, the Sunday School class has given money to the Salvation Army, The Alliance Food Pantry, The Alliance Homeless Shelter, a local neighborhood center, and funded Youth Camp Scholarships. Money has also been donated on a global level, supporting an education fund in Sierra Leone.
The church has been using the same recipe since this tradition began. Susan Diser is responsible for gathering the ingredients. She said that any of the 220 lbs. of peanuts, 576 lbs. of sugar, 24 bottles of vanilla or any of the other ingredients that are left over are used by the youth group to make hard tac in December or for other church projects.
There is no paid advertising for sales, and only a brief article is published in the church newsletter. But every year the church manages to sell all the peanut brittle they make, and the next year they make even more.
And every year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day members of Christ United Methodist Church in Alliance take one Christmas dessert and use it as a tool to not only serve those in their community who are less fortunate, but to build the connections and relationships within their own walls, investing into the lives of each other as they serve together.
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*Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.