Church fundraisers in southwest Minnesota always seem to have a lot in common. When I was growing up, a church hosted potluck usually meant sitting through the service, focused not on the message, but on the smell of homemade food wafting up from the basement.
There was always the dish you looked forward to, those you avoided and the obligatory Jell-O salad with fruit cocktail and whipped cream.
When I decided to go to the church fundraiser held by St. Mary’s Catholic Church for Julia Barrera, I assumed I would find something similar to what I was used to.
I should have been tipped off when I drove up to the parking lot that something was going to be different than what I expected.
Mass was still going on and as my friend Kelli and I walked up to the school, we could hear organ led hymns coming from the sanctuary.
When we walked into the school’s cafeteria, the smells that greeted us were a far cry from chili and barbeque. Instead the air was filled with spicy peppers and tomatoes.
The room was lined with long tables that formed stations for different foods, each label with signs designed to both identify and promote the food — delicious hotdogs! Rich desserts! Fresh drinks!
After a quick survey of the room, Kelli and I decided to choose something completely unknown: pozole soup.
The red brown broth had been flavored with chili powder, the woman told us, and blobs of hominy and whole chicken legs dripping with bits of meat broke the surface of the opaque liquid.
After we topped our soup with the recommended onions, lettuce, radishes and oregano and grabbed with two hard tortillas, Kelli and I found a seat and contemplated the meal before us.
Never of us had ever tried to eat soup with a tortilla and we were both at a bit of a loose how to even start.
Not ones to be deterred, we eventually dove in, watching more experienced pozole eaters out of the corner of our eyes for direction.
As mass finished, the room filled with the buzz of rapid Spanish and people hungry and eager to help one of the parishioners of their church as she battled cancer.
Young men stood proudly by each of the tables, calling out the food they were selling, trying to convince people to come their way.
“We’ve got amazing pozole and tamales!” one said, while another shouted that the Mexican hotdogs he was selling were delicious.
I couldn’t help laughing when a stack of boxes from Pizza Hut were carried in and all the children yelled, “Pizza!” and converged on the table where the pizza was being sold by the slice.
The whole event felt like a family reunion so big you haven’t met most of the cousins before.
Children were laughing and chasing each other around the tables, while the adults talked and enjoyed quality home cooked food.
Mariana Gutierrez, Spanish ministry coordinator, told me she estimated there were over 400 people there to support Julia.
That is the beauty of small towns and supportive communities and I am thankful be part of helping, whether barbeque or pozole is served.