Would You Like Soup With Your Vote? Western PA’s Tradition Of Election Day Fundraisers

Nov 7, 2016

Among the gauntlet of campaign workers looking to sway voters before casting their ballots at Northmont United Presbyterian Church in McCandless Tuesday will be Mary Lou English and her glass jars of soup.

“This year, we have 24 people making soup,” English said. “So most of it will be different. They might have the same name, but it will be 24 different kinds.”

Northmont United’s women’s group spent Monday afternoon making and canning jars of soup to sell on Election Day. But some, like English, started well before then.

More than 100 jars of soup are prepared and stored in preparation for Election Day. Mary Lou English and other volunteers plan to arrive at the church by 7 a.m. and will likely sell out by 11 a.m.
Credit Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

“I made chicken potato chowder and a vegetable chowder and then I made a beef vegetable soup,” English said. “I have three of them and I’m going to do some more.”

The church’s women’s group uses the money from the sale to support its mission work locally and abroad. English said past soup sales brought in around $500. Given the number of chefs and the high interest in the election this year, the group expects to make a bit more.

Election Day fundraisers used to be common throughout western Pennsylvania, but many seem to have fallen by the wayside over the years. Church populations are shrinking and members have fewer volunteer hours to support the effort.

Voters at the McKnight United Methodist Church in Ross will still be greeted by a bake sale and at the Greensburg Trinity United Church of Christ, the Men’s Brotherhood group will put on its 63rd annual election night pancake dinner.

According to Greensburg Trinity United church member Jim Stitt, its takes many hands to pull off the fundraiser – including help from female congregants.

Stitt is in charge of picking up the sausage offered with the pancakes – which some call “legendary.”  

“It was for years and years because we had a member named Harvey, who made the sausage,” Stitt said. “Every year he made the sausage for us for, I don’t know how many years, 30 or 40, maybe more.”

Mary Lou English hand writes labels for each homemade jar of soup that she and other volunteers will sell on Election Day.
Credit Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Harvey never handed down his recipe before he passed away. And though the men’s group searched for a substitute, Stitt said nothing ever quite measured up to Harvey’s creation.

That was until years later when the long-lost recipe was recovered after Harvey’s children found it while cleaning out their mother’s house. It took a few more years to find the right butcher, but Stitt said Harvey’s sausages are back on the menu.

“I might say to myself, ‘It isn’t quite there,’ but is that reality or just my biased imagination? He’s done a good job for us and were back to getting compliments about the sausage,” Stitt said.

The $600-800 the church expects to make from the dinner will go to local charities. Stitt said it’s as much about building community as it is about the money.

English agreed.

“We enjoy getting together and filling the jars,” she said. “It’s just an accomplishment you know?”