Easter Bunny no match for Beech Grove UMC in Driver

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 6, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Sometimes, even the Easter Bunny has to depend on the United States Postal Service.

That’s how an increasing number of those delectable, chocolate-dipped eggs manufactured by the &uot;Easter Egg Factory&uot; – also known as the congregation of Beech Grove United Methodist Church in Driver – are ending up in Easter baskets around the country and world: Paris, Bosnia even Afghanistan.

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&uot;I sent one to my son who was serving in Afghanistan last year,&uot; said Charlie Craig, who is spearheading the church’s annual fundraiser this year. &uot;It got there, although it arrived in puddles.&uot;

The quaint church started what has evolved into a local tradition in 1979, when a small group of volunteers made about $500 by selling the chocolate-covered eggs in four flavors: peanut butter, coconut, butter cream, and fruit/nut.

Things have grown over the last 24 years.

This year, Beech Grove will make and sell approximately 100,000 1-ounce Easter eggs, Craig said. The church volunteers will also produce thousands of the 1/2-pound and 1-pound chocolate-dipped eggs.

&uot;Right now, we are making 5,000 or 6,000 eggs a day,&uot; Craig said. &uot;The little ones are by far the most popular.

&uot;I think people like the 1-ounce eggs because they are small enough to eat at one time. Plus, you get more chocolate that way since each one is dipped!&uot;

Craig wouldn’t speculate on how much profit the project is expected to generate this year; only that he hopes it will exceed the $25,000-plus raised annually in recent years.

By the time Easter rolls around on April 20, the &uot;factory&uot; will have used more than 3,600 pounds of sugar, 1,500 pounds of milk chocolate and 900 pounds of butter, he said.

&uot;They are pretty rich,&uot; Craig said.

Just as they have for the past three weeks, shifts of a dozen or more volunteers will be pulling duty on the egg factory’s assembly lines until Easter. People come when they can and stay as long as they are able – sometimes for a couple of hours, sometimes all day.

Approximately half of the 250-member congregation will have volunteered by Easter, he said. The church’s older members typically begin arriving around 9 a.m. and spend the day making eggs: mixing and weighing the filling, shaping, then dipping and decorating them.

The younger crowd will usually come in for several hours at night, often keeping the kitchen open until 10 p.m.

&uot;It’s a good way to give to the church in some way other than financially,&uot; said Craig. &uot;It’s a wonderful source of fellowship and a lot of fun.

&uot;It’s one way you really get to know the people in your congregation.&uot;

The church’s oldest member, 92-year-old Ruby McDaniel, one of the founding &uot;Easter Egg Factory&uot; members, still works on the project several times a week.

&uot;I’ve been doing this every year since we started,&uot; said McDaniel, gingerly weighing blobs of the creamy egg filling. &uot;It ends up involving much of the community. A lot of visitors come in here while we’re working.&uot;

This year, for the first time, Beech Grove is not able to personalize the eggs because they lost one of their primary decorators this year, said Minta Wood and Carol Vernon, as they trimmed peanut butter chocolate eggs with yellow- and- green icing.

But they did make one exception last week, when a customer came in with a special request to personalize an egg with the name of her deployed husband’s aircraft carrier, &uot;H. S Truman.&uot; She is planning to send the egg to her husband in the Persian Gulf.

&uot;We did it happily for her,&uot; Vernon said. &uot;It’s the least we can do right now.&uot;

All of the money raised is invested back into the church programs and mission projects at the local, state and national levels, Craig said.

For example, money is used for the church’s scholarship fund, which gives every college-bound senior a scholarship; and donations are made to several programs and organizations, including the Suffolk Homeless Shelter, and the United Methodist Church’s Heart Haven project, homes for the mentally disadvantaged. The closest two homes are in Norfolk and Virginia Beach.