ANDOVER — Four women with $20 each from redeemed bottles were told three years ago to “go forth and multiply” it in a “Pay It Forward” challenge from the First Congregational Church of Andover.
Sharon Hutchins, Philena Chaisson, Beverly Swan and Sandra Savage did just that, igniting what has become an annual, two-church and community-wide effort to feed Andover Elementary School children.
In three years, their Hungry Kingdom Benefit movement has raised more than $23,000 through bake sales and donations, Hutchins said at the group’s fourth annual May Fair in the church dining room off Route 120 on Saturday.
At today’s food prices, that’s $200 per child, she said.
“Somebody called us a socialist effort, but you know what? It works for me,” Hutchins said, selling grain bags fashioned into handbags for $10 each.
“It’s been a very positive experience and it has felt really good to do something that impacts every child in Andover Elementary School,” she said. “The whole community has totally embraced this.”
The Rev. Jane Rich, Oxford County’s retired registrar of deeds, said the movement began as a project through her Congregational Church and spread to include the Calvary Bible Church in Andover.
“It just blossomed to include the other church, and then everybody in the community, actually, so that the kids would be fed in school, because we were told that half of them came to school hungry,” Rich said.
“So, it’s been a very unifying project for the whole community,” she said.
Rich said the four women saw a story on television about schoolchildren going hungry.
“And then we found out through the school that many kids’ parents made just over the (threshold) to make them eligible for the school lunch program, so this (benefit) has really been a sizable help to a lot of families,” Rich said.
The pouring rain Saturday morning — the seventh straight day of rain in Western Maine — proved to be a godsend, Rich said.
“I’m really glad about the rain because it brought a lot of people in,” she said. “It was the bright spot in an otherwise rainy week.”
In the first two hours of the four-hour bake sale and debut craft sale, a few hundred people stopped by.
“The turnout has been really well,” Hutchins said. “It’s been pretty steady. I mean, the line hasn’t been backed up forever.”
Besides Hutchins, 13 vendors hawked homemade baskets, paintings, wooden products, herbs, candles and porcelain, among other things.
And then there was the bake sale: three large tables covered with homemade cakes, breads, cookies, muffins, pies and fudge — all made by Andover residents.
Nearly everyone walking into the oh-so-sweet-smelling kitchen, on first sight of the goodies, uttered, “Oh, my gosh!”
Two fancily decorated cakes — one white chocolate, the other nothing but chocolate — made by Tina Farrington, garnered much of the attention.
They were being raffled at 50 cents an entry or three entries for $1. A nearby plastic jar was nearly full to overflowing with entries 90 minutes into the fair.
“I’m hoping somebody I know wins so I can ask them, ‘Can I just lick the frosting off?’” said Dee Nadeau, bake sale clerk and Andover Elementary School lunch lady.
“Our first bake sale that we had three years ago pulled in $900, and this year’s looks like it’s coming in pretty close to that,” Hutchins said.