Volunteers bake through the night for Fastnacht Day

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
The creation of thousands of donuts for Fastnacht Day succeeded because of a well-organized system at Greencastle Church of the Brethren. Twila Strite and Susie Myers put ingredients in a commercial mixer. The marathon baking session began Monday afternoon and ran through the night.

The duds were scarfed up by the more than 50 volunteers who spent up to 17 hours making donuts, but the majority of the 500 dozen pre-Lenten treats went into boxes for hungry customers. Greencastle Church of the Brethren continued its tradition of baking donuts for Fastnacht Day, this year observed on Tuesday, Feb. 12. Historically the Pennsylvania Dutch cleaned out their cupboards for a grand day of eating, then practiced discipline from Ash Wednesday until Easter.

Church members can't remember exactly when their fundraiser began, but chairman Twila Strite figured it was the early 1990s. Her parents got it going, and she took over in 2000. This year helpers ranged in age from 5 years into their 70s.

Pre-orders numbered 453 dozen at $6 a box, but 500 boxes were planned, since people tended to ask for more when they picked up their orders Tuesday morning.

Strite was at the church at 3 p.m. Monday afternoon. She hoped the work would be finished by 8 a.m.

"It's an all-nighter."

Buyers were expected to start coming at 5 a.m., with the fresh donuts ready to go. Menno Haven was usually the first on the scene, sharing the sweets in its Chambersburg communities. Other customers, many returning year after year, came from Greencastle and surrounding towns.

Strite promised no secret ingredients in the donuts, just water, flour, yeast, eggs, shortening, salt and sugar. The dough went into a "proofer", a converted refrigerator, to raise. Then it made the rounds to various stations, with volunteers whipping through their duties to keep the assembly line going.

One bunch rolled and cut the dough. The circles were placed on boards and covered with cloth, to raise again in a small room heated to 90 degrees by a space heater. Once fluffy, they were fried, 15 at a time, in hot oil. The transfer gang brought trays of donuts outside to cool in a carport.

Then the final steps to deliciousness were conducted. The donuts were rolled one by one in powdered sugar, though some of the sugar made it onto faces and clothing. A dozen per box were then set on side tables, ready to go.

Strite oversaw the entire process. "I enjoy it," she said of the tiring but satisfying endeavor.

The people dedicated to the baking savored the camaraderie of participating in a once-a-year event. They took breaks to rest, eat covered dishes and snacks, and maybe try a mis-shapen donut for dessert.

Strite slept a little before going to her job Monday noon at James Buchanan High School cafeteria, but noted some people went straight to work.

Proceeds from the project support missions and needs of the church.