Helping Circle still cooking
Ladies social groups are not as numerous today as they were thirty years ago; unfortunate since these groups were often quite good at raising money for local causes and providing help to community members when they needed it most. But thankfully,
some have survived, often because of their ability to evolve with the changing times.
The “Helping Circle of Stanstead South United Church” is one such group that has been operating in a few different forms and under a few different names for over sixty years. “I think it’s safe to say that the original group started back in the 1940’s and I think it was started by Mrs. Gustafson. That group went for a few years, disbanded for a little while, then Edith Selby started it up again in the 1970’s. We had as many ladies from the American side as from the Canadian side back then,” explained Madelyn Curtis, a past president of the organization who has been a member since the 1970’s.
At one time, when the ages didn’t mix together as much, the club was actually comprised of three groups: “Ladies Aid” was for senior women; the “Helping Circle” was for middle-aged women; and the “35 Club” which was also called the “Canusa Club” at one time, was for the younger crowd.
There was never a shortage of ideas for fundraising activities from the group’s members over the years. “Years ago we used to have a Mother and Daughter Banquet. And if you didn’t have a daughter to bring to it, you borrowed one,” remembered Mrs. Curtis. “And we used to have craft sessions to prepare things for Christmas. Boy that was fun. We’d do that at Mrs. Lawton’s in Derby Line. People were more crafty back then and it was surprising what we would come up with.”
The group also held card parties, bazaars, picnics, served dinners to a bridge club and the local club of Masons, and held turkey suppers. “Once we cooked the turkeys on the other side, in the United States, and then the border officers wouldn’t let us cross back into Canada with the cooked turkeys!” said Madelyn.
With only about eighteen members, the Helping Circle now holds around five big fundraising activities a year, all in the hall of the Stanstead South United Church. “We hold a Spring Luncheon, with pretty sandwiches and wonderful desserts, in May, always on a Saturday,” said Barbara Bruhmuller, the club’s president. “As a rule we have a ‘white elephant table’ with handicrafts and a variety of used items at the Spring Luncheon,” added Madelyn.
The club holds a large yard sale every year instead of holding bazaars. “We usually hold ours before the town’s garage sale. People just donate things like household items and clothes, and then they come back and buy things,” said Mrs. Bruhmuller.
One of their newest activities, a chicken pie dinner, was very popular last year, bringing out both men and women for the delicious, home-baked pies. The club plans to repeat that fundraiser again this year, in September. The preparing assorted casseroles like scalloped potatoes, chicken pies, macaroni and cheese casserole... and we serve pancakes and real maple syrup for dessert. Last year our turnout was so good that we ran a little short of pancakes. But we’ll be ready this time!” promised Barbara.
After learning about the club’s activities, I asked Madelyn and Barbara what they liked about being members. “It keeps us active and I like the social aspect,” said Madelyn. Barbara joined the group in 2006, only about a year after moving to Stanstead from Montreal. “I look forward to the Circle. They’re a really nice group of ladies – dear friends. I’ve learnt a lot from the older ladies and heard all kinds of stories. And I’ve gotten some wonderful recipes,” said Barbara.
If you would like more information about The Helping Circle or would like to donate items for their sales, call president Barbara Bruhmuller at 819 876-7029. New members are always welcome and they don’t have to be a member of the United Church congregation.
The Helping Circle raises money through their activities for several organizations such as the Stanstead South United Church, CAB RH Rediker, the Magog Hospital, the Haskell Library, MIRA and NECKA, a soup kitchen in Newport. The members also make up Christmas baskets of fruit for shut-ins on both sides of the border, among other charitable activities.
Madelyn Christmas Luncheon, held in November, is another well-attended activity. And instead of holding a picnic before the club’s summer break, now the women go out to a restaurant together. “It’s a treat for our members after cooking casseroles all year,” said Mrs. Bruhmuller.
Soon the members of the Helping Circle will once again be putting on their oven mitts: their annual Shrove Tuesday Supper is just around the corner, on March 8th from 4:30 to 7:00 pm. “Our members will be
Curtis (left) and club president Barbara Bruhmuller doing a little preparatory work for their Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, scheduled for March 8th.