SHICKSHINNY — What began with a family recipe more than 25 years ago in a church member’s kitchen has grown to dozens of volunteers making some 16,000 chocolate eggs annually to keep the small church operating.
The Shickshinny First Methodist Church, a landmark institution in this small southern Luzerne County town dating back to 1868, in recent times has hatched a lucrative fundraiser: If 16,000 eggs are sold, as expected, the church will make $13,600.
That’s not chicken feed. The funds helps an active congregation to continue serving the community.
And with the potential for additional sales online, the revenue could rise.
The Church Ladies’ Easter Eggs, as they are called, are available in milk and dark chocolate over coconut cream and peanut butter.
“The money we raise helps pay the bills of the church,” said Linda Maczuga, 69, coordinator of the egg-making operation in the church’s basement kitchen on Main Street. “The money pays for repairs, improvements — whatever is needed.”
Maczuga and her 70-year-old husband Andy — who mixes the chocolate used to coat the peanut butter and coconut eggs — lead a core of volunteers who labor long hours to make the eggs on time to fulfill orders that are from locals, as well as people around the country.
Jim Bach, spokesman and administrative chairman of the church, said four United Methodist churches provide volunteers to help get the job done — Hunlock Creek United Methodist Church, Muhlenburg United Methodist Church, Bloomingdale United Methodist Church and, the host Shickshinny First United Methodist Church.
Bach said the egg project is vital to the church’s survival and to its mission of serving the community at-large. He said the Shickshinny church was built right after the Civil War, and since that time it has provided many needed services to the community.
“After the 2011 flood, 1,100 people per week ate meals here every day because there was no other place for them to go,” Bach said. “There was no other place to hold meetings, so we hosted them here.”
Bach said the church also houses a food bank and pantry. While they are not operated directly by the church, they are given space to store their food and distribute it to local families in need.
The Food Pantry provides critical meals to 150 families each month. It operates in cooperation with the Weinberg Food Bank at the Commission on Economic Opportunity.
“If the church isn’t open, then all of that is lost to the community,” Bach said. “So the egg project directly and indirectly affects all that the church does.”
Bach said there are about 150 members of the church “on the books” and a Sunday school is provided for children.
“With all the churches uniting to help out, they realize the importance of this church and its many roles in this community,” Bach said.
And Bach is a typical example of how everyone pitches in to help the church.
He operates a fitness business on Main Street, and he takes calls for the church and orders for the Easter egg sale. He even delivers orders for the church.
Chris Miller heard about the egg project and immediately got involved. He and his business partner, fellow Wilkes University professor Sid Halsor, have established a website that features generational recipes and the stories of how they came to be.
The website is recipemadereal.com. Anyone interested in purchasing the Easter eggs can go to the website, place an order and Miller will have them shipped.
“This church stays alive by selling these eggs,” Miller said. “We hope to distribute the eggs all over the country.”
Miller pays the normal price of 85 cents per egg and charges $1.30 on the website, which includes packing and shipping costs. The eggs are Miller’s first product to be offered on the website and he doesn’t expect to make much of a profit off this effort. They are listed as “Church Ladies’ Famous Chocolate Eggs.”
“The bottom line is they will sell more eggs and raise more money,” Miller said. “We’ve already purchased 1,000 eggs to sell online.”
The volunteers have been putting in eight-plus hours daily to meet the increasing demand for the eggs. They mix the chocolate, prepare the peanut butter and coconut cream recipes, they mold the egg, dip them in the chocolate and then hand-trim excess off each, with the trimmings being sent back to the melting pots. Nothing is wasted.
Once they are set on trays to dry, they are then individually bagged and taped closed. Then they are placed in boxes as each order is carefully measured and labeled.
Maczuga said an egg fund has been established to pay for all the ingredients, thereby allowing all 85 cents paid for each egg to go to the church fund.
The project began some 27 years ago and today the volunteers produce more than 1,000 eggs per day. Each batch requires a three-day process of gathering ingredients, mixing and rolling and then coating, trimming and bagging.
The volunteers have been working diligently since the first week of February on the project.
Carol Chapin of Stillwater grew up in the Shickshinny church and wants to see it continue.
“This church means so much to so many people — members and non-0members,” she said.
Pat Chapin of Town Hill, Barbara Pissott of Hunlock Creek and Susan Miller of Shickshinny each had specific jobs on this day. They said they understand the importance of volunteering at all the participating churches as the key to survival.
Miller has been a member of the church for more than 50 years.
“I live the closest, but I’m always the last one to get here,” she said as she bagged the eggs. “We have a lot of older members who depend on the church and this project helps keep it here.”
Tom and Chris Pugh of Hunlock Creek volunteer two days per week to the egg project. Chris coats the eggs and Tom trims the excess chocolate.
“This is a significant fundraiser for the church,” Tom Pugh said. “But it’s also a mission thing. People look for these eggs every year — it’s a sign of spring.”
Lois Jarrard was trimming eggs next to Pugh. She’s been a member of the church for 20 years.
“We do it to help the church,” she said.
Jessie Miller, 10, is Chris Miller’s daughter. During a break from school, she wanted to help and her job was to tape each egg bag closed. She said she realizes how important it is to raise money for the church.
“That’s mostly why I’m doing this,” she said. “The money that is raised will keep the church open.”