Organizers created a child-sized door for entry into the children’s workshop at an All Saints Parish bazaar before the pandemic. (Courtesy Laura Fricke)
Organizers created a child-sized door for entry into the children’s workshop at an All Saints Parish bazaar before the pandemic. (Courtesy Laura Fricke)
The number of fall bazaars at Catholic parishes may be fading, but enthusiasm is high this year after the pandemic snuffed 2020 gatherings. Organizers say the events not only make money for good works, but solidify community bonds and display parish life to the wider world. In other words, bazaars are evangelization.

“The bazaars bring the parishioners and people in the neighborhood together,” said Rosemary Childress, who leads the sales at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Southeast Portland. “This year people are particularly excited.”

The word “bazaar” derives from Persian and refers to markets in Middle Eastern nations. By the 19th century, the word had been adopted solidly into English to name fundraising events that support charity. In western Oregon, parish bazaars and bazaars put on by women religious go back at least to the early 1870s.

Today’s events are not much different, though in the early days parishioners did most of the crafting and baking themselves. Now, parishes also welcome outside vendors, who pay a fee to sell their wares at tables. Vendors at St. Anthony include a teddy bear maker, a wood crafter, a photographer and several knitters and candle makers.

Shopping at bazaars is seen as a way to support a good cause, have fun and get some Christmas shopping done early.

Why do all that work? “I love my faith and I love my church,” Childress said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

This year, bazaars will be set up to promote social distancing and masks are required per state regulations.

The Catholic Daughters of the Americas long have organized the fall bazaar at St. Peter Parish in Newberg. It’s a moment when many people pitch in, said organizer Pat Ridenour. She does publicity. Someone else reaches out to vendors. Women help carry in the wares. Another team provides a welcome to shoppers. A night crew cleans up.

Proceeds from the bazaar help the Catholic Daughters support parish religious education and the youth group as well as Habitat for Humanity and a crisis pregnancy center.

All Saints Parish in Northeast Portland holds its 65th annual bazaar next month. “It’s a great community event,” said Laura Fricke, who has helped organize for the past decade. “It kicks off our Christmas season and begins our Advent.” Muscle comes in the form of parents from the parish school, who are energetic at the beginning of the year.

The All Saints bazaar features what organizers call a Treasure Table — antiques and collectibles gathered up during the previous year. Other tables have items like handmade soap, candles, metal sculpture and stained glass. A small cafe serves food. Visitors at volleyball games in the gym often peek in and shop.

In Canby at St. Patrick Parish, women of the parish still do most of the crafting and baking. There is nothing mass-produced there.

“There is great camaraderie and fellowship,” said Varlene Patton, lead organizer for the mid-November event. “It’s about people coming together. They work for it. They need it.”

Patton advertises far and wide, putting up 75 yard signs around Canby.

Vendors include a wood ornament crafter, jewelry fashioners, soap makers and a woman who sketches with coal.

Christina Simmons, in the fourth generation of a family at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Southeast Portland, helped at her first bazaar at age 8 with her grandmother. She and her mother, Diane Salvitelli, revived the parish bazaar about a decade ago.

“It feels like my family,” Simmons said of the parish, explaining that families need time to get together and the bazaar fits the need.

“It’s an amazing sense of community,” Simmons said. “Everyone is in a happy, good mood. It’s not just about money but about seeing someone you have not seen for a while.” With the pandemic, she added, such moments are all the more treasured.

In Corvallis, the bazaar stalled for years before women with energy restarted it five years ago, led by Sharon Sever of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas.

“It’s a great way to gather the church community and present our church community in a broader light,” said Julie Castillo, who now leads the event. Funds go to parish ministries and to local and national causes.

One side of the Corvallis bazaar features handmade crafts and baked goods, while the Country Store offers antiques and unique items. Parishioners, community members and even Oregon State University students come to find treasures like a centuries-old missal, a collection of rare china or a vintage milk can.

Bazaars are fun but also get the parish known in the wider community, said Sylvia Boyce, who handles ads and communication for the event at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Southeast Portland.

“I think it’s a great community outreach in many ways,” said Boyce. “It brings many people from outside the church and gives us an opportunity to talk about the parish and the things we do there. It also brings our own community together. You get to know other people, like those you never talk to because you go to a different Mass.”

Vendors at St. Joseph the Worker include knitters, quilters and a parishioner who is a woodworker.

Asked why she volunteers so many hours, Boyce said it’s one way to serve God.