Pie fundraiser greens school grounds

November 2017

Christmas is coming, so everyone will be getting their to-do lists ready. Gifts bought and wrapped? Check. Put up Christmas lights? Check. Organize a team of volunteers and bake 1100 meat pies and 350 sugar pies...whoa, wait?! What was that last one again?

Every Fall Claudette Gleeson starts planning for an annual fundraiser in support of the Centre francophone and École secondaire catholique de la Vérendrye. She leads a group of volunteers that ensure one of the trademark flavours of Christmas is available for Thunder Bay residents.

During the 2000-2001 school year, the parent teacher association of Ecole catholique Franco-superieur launched a fundraiser to raise money for the greening of the school grounds. They decided to make and sell homemade tourtières (French Canadian meat pie) and tarte au sucre (sugar pie). Tourtière is a traditional part of Franco Ontarien Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, so was a natural choice. A pie tasting contest was held, with the winner chosen based on taste, authenticity and adaptability to be made in large batches. Those tried and true recipes are still used to this day.

In those early years, a parent offered the use of their home for the volunteers to prepare the pies. It took four women anywhere from 6-8 hours to make 150 pies. As the popularity grew and orders increased, the group realized they needed a bigger space. In 2004, Fort William Historical Park donated the use their of kitchen. By that time, they were making over 500 pies in one day, and the number of volunteers needed to produce the pies had doubled.

As the students graduated from Ecole catholique Franco-superieur to Ecole secondaire catholique de la Verendrye, the pie fundraiser followed. The proceeds from the fundraiser were re-directed to support activities within the new school, including the high school trip to Europe and the Centre francophone community hall. By then, the success of the pie sales was yielding even bigger orders and it was true serendipity that around this time, the school board announced that they would be building a new high school, complete with a learning kitchen. The Board requested input on the design so that it could also function as a permanent space to produce the pies. Over time, specialized equipment has been purchased, such as a dough rolling machine, convection oven and an industrial mixer for mixing large batches. “I don’t know how many hand mixers we burnt out before we got the big mixer” laughs Gleeson.

As you can imagine, an undertaking of this scope doesn’t happen overnight. Much advance planning is required. At least 1500 pie plates are needed, which are ordered six weeks in advance. Then, shop for the ingredients. Last year, the grocery list included 240 lbs of lean ground beef, 480 lbs of lean ground pork, 200 lbs of potatoes, 75 lbs of onions, 320 lbs of Tenderflake lard, 20 – 20 kg bags of flour, and 45 dozen eggs.

Each year in November volunteers comprised of high school staff, students, parents and members of the francophone community spend the weekend cutting potatoes and onions, cooking meat, making and rolling pie dough, and assembling the pies. Last year, approximately 50 volunteers made over 1100 meat pies and 350 sugar pies.
Pies are ordered ahead of time and must be picked up on the day they are made. These delicacies are in such demand organizers keep a waiting list. Calls are made from the waiting list for any orders that are not picked up.

Even though her children have graduated, Gleeson still coordinates all the moving parts to this project. “This project is not only great to continue a wonderful French Canadian tradition, it also has given the opportunity to people to experience working together for a good cause.” says Gleeson.

While the purpose of the pie sale is to raise money, there are benefits to this fundraiser that are not measured in dollars and cents. This group shares a common goal and a passion for keeping this tradition going. Friendships have developed as many volunteers return each year. Long after the kitchen has been cleaned, pots are scrubbed and the last pie has been picked up, there is a feeling of community and camaraderie that warms the heart through the Christmas season and beyond.

Orders can be made by contacting Ecole catholique Franco-superieur catholique Franco-superieur at 343-4088 or through the Francophone centre website www.centrefranco.ca.

Kathy Shilliday is a regular contributor and a hawk eye for stories to share. She can be reached at rkshilliday@tbaytel.net

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