GREENFIELD — The cancellations of church holiday bazaars due to the COVID-19 pandemic are among the more poignant losses of the upcoming holiday season. Most of these events are decades-long traditions, supported by loyal patrons who count on them to supplement their holiday shopping with handcrafted gifts and homemade pastries, pies and other goodies.
They’re a social occasion as much as a buying opportunity, the place where one can count on meeting up with old friends and enjoying breakfast, brunch or lunch in between browsing the tables, visiting craft vendors and buying raffle tickets. They are also usually the mainstay of the church operating budget, generating income counted in the thousands of dollars.
While most have been canceled for this year, the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew in Greenfield has pivoted to convert its traditional Mistletoe Mart into an online craft catalog, according to the Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm, associate rector.
“The main concept is, we’re going to open an online store using the platform ‘Square’ and we’re developing a catalog of all the things that we have to sell,” Scherm said. “People will be able to click through and see the items for sale and order them there, online. Square allows for them to pay for it with a credit card.”
In addition to craft items such as hand-knit socks, mittens, hats and sweaters, and zippered tote bags, the members of St. Andrew’s Guild have also produced five full-size handmade bed quilts. Their catalog will also offer food items such as apple pies and peanut brittle.
“The sale is going to run for five days, from Nov. 9 to 16, and when it’s done, we will have a number of days when people will come and pick up their purchases at the church at a designated time,” Scherm explained. “We will be there at the open window of the Whiteman Room and hand bags with their purchases out the window to them.”
Lay leader Diane Kurkulonis, who has been tasked with writing up the item descriptions and gathering photos of every item, said she is having fun with the project.
“I just kind of make it up, make it fun, like ‘Get ready for a nor’easter in these cozy warm mittens. Seamless construction for comfort,’” she said, providing an example.
“I think it’s going to be fun,” Kurkulonis continued. “I have a little committee put together of the people that are going to pass things through the (drive-up) window. Hopefully, it will work.”
Scherm’s daughter, Jessica Corwin of Sunderland, who describes herself as “tech-brave” rather than tech-savvy, is creating the online catalog using the web-based platform known as Square (squareup.com).
“Square is something you see often at craft fairs where vendors can get a little gizmo that attaches to their cellphone or their iPad that can take credit cards,” Corwin explained. “And Square offers as part of their service a free service for building an online store. And it’s very easy.”
Corwin said she has been doing this for several years now for another nonprofit fundraiser.
“It’s free to sign up for your account. Square charges you per credit card charge. I think it’s like a 30-cent fee plus 2.9 percent of the charge, so that’s where they make their money,” she said. “When you set up your account, the first thing they have you do is connect your bank account so that can make your deposits when people buy things from you.”
The challenge is to get people to visit your online store. Advertising could, for example, send people to your church website’s homepage and Facebook page.
“We will have a link that brings you straight into our online store that shows you what’s for sale,” Corwin explained. “I have also done it in the past where I can go to GoDaddy and purchase a URL. They might have mistletoemarttogo.com available for $10 for the year, and you buy it and have that automatically direct you to the online store. We haven’t talked about that aspect of it yet.
Corwin also expects to use various Facebook pages to spread the word.
“We might ask community members to share with their relatives and neighbors,” she said, “especially as a way to advertise that this is a way you can safely shop local for holiday gifts, that everything is locally made and it benefits local missions.”
Anticipating a time when holiday bazaars are once again held in-person, Corwin suggests another use for an online store.
“You could use it for your leftover inventory,” she said. “If you’re holding your fair around Thanksgiving but there’s weeks left before Christmas, the day after, you could put up your online store and people could browse that at their leisure. Or, if they had come and seen something they wished they had bought, they might still be able to get it and pick it up afterward.”
Ultimately, by converting the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew’s Mistletoe Mart into an online craft catalog, Scherm hopes to continue a tradition and support the church’s mission.
“The fellowship of the planning and the organizing for an event is always part of what we gain from it, so it’s great to be able to work together on keeping the Mistletoe Mart tradition in some form or other,” she said. “It’s fun for us, but also fundraising is part of our budget and our fundraising supports our community meals, our essential pantry — it supports all of our outreach. So we’re really very motivated to continue figuring out how to do it.”