O'Hara bake sale helps those in need

Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

The social hall at St. Joseph Parish in O'Hara looked a bit like a chocolate factory on Monday, with volunteers staffed before vats of melted chocolate, fresh strawberries and bags of colorful sprinkles.

“We're making anything and everything you can think of,” said Audrey Szmed, who with Beth Mattheis spearheaded the parish Women's Group annual candy-making fundraiser.

The sale will follow Masses on Feb. 9 and 10.

“We go through about 150 pounds of chocolate,” Szmed said with enthusiasm.

The Women's Group, which includes parishioners ages 18 to 98, hosts the bake/chocolate sale each year to benefit the community's needy. In the past, they have donated to women's shelters and underprivileged children.

“Depending on the need, that's where our money goes,” said Szmed, who has been a member of the outreach club for 10 years. “Most recently, we gave baby items to the Rosalia Center for mothers in need.”

In 2012, the bake sale brought in more than $1,000 after having started a decade ago as nothing more than a few trays of brownies at the church fish fry each spring. It has since grown into a full-fledge bakery boutique, said member Joanne Balkey, who lends her expertise as a former sweet shop owner and professional cake baker for 30 years.

“When you walk into our sale now, it looks like something out of a department store,” she said.

Banquet tables covered with ornate linens will showcase items all handmade by parishioners.

“We have cakes and cookies, pies and breads,” Szmed said.

Some of the confections turned out Monday include peppermint bark, orange and macadamia nut logs, chocolate-drizzled biscotti and fresh dipped strawberries.

Young church member Alyssa Mattheis, off school for Monday's Martin Luther King holiday, lent a hand in creating chocolate-covered heart-shaped marshmallow pops.

“I had an idea to cover them with red sprinkles so they look really pretty,” said Alyssa, who speared each pink marshmallow with wooden sticks before dipping and decorating them.

She worked with Women's Group member Helen Grosky to wrap each pop in a cellophane bag to display during the sale.

The pair also helped scoop pieces of peppermint bark into bags and weigh them to exactly 14 ounces each before tying the bags with colorful ribbon.

It's that camaraderie that Balkey said keeps the Women's Group going. With the aim of sharing faith and fellowship, and providing service to the community, members get together for lunches, card parties and mystery theater dinners. They provide baking for the local Meals on Wheels chapter, host drives to collect items for the needy and feature guest speakers on women's topics during their monthly meetings.

“We do so many things,” Balkey said. “It's a nice group.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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