One month before Thanksgiving 2016, my small congregation of Forest Home Chapel—a United Methodist Church in Ithaca, NY—baked 100 pies and sold them all in the first hour of the sale. Our goal was to raise both funds and awareness for our nearby NAMI affiliate.
NAMI Finger Lakes’ quiet work—their amazing free programs and classes—spread only by word-of-mouth. Three of our members had taken NAMI Family-to-Family, but we wanted the entire congregation to know about NAMI and understand why our efforts would impact not only all of us, but our community at large.
We started our awareness campaign by inviting Dr. Tim Marchell, Director of Cornell University’s Mental Health Initiatives, to speak to us about spirituality and mental health. Dr. Marchell taught us that “being in relationship with others…to be with and for each other is psychologically protective. Being helpful releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which improves mood. Do the best you can, with what you have, however modest it may be.”
Our second presentation was by two dedicated Family-to-Family teachers who described their personal journey with their son who lives with a mental health condition. Their son is in and out of nearby institutions, with no clear end in sight—we joined them in their tears. Together, these presentations informed, moved and mobilized our congregation as we moved forward into our own Mental Health Awareness Month.
Here Come the Pies!
After our congregation decided that we wanted to raise funds for our local NAMI, we knew it should involve food! Because we live in apple country and the time was just right, we opted for baking, freezing, and selling apple pies plus a few seasonal pumpkin pies. The congregation came together during three sessions of the baker’s version of Henry Ford’s assembly line—I peel, you cut, he mixes, she rolls, someone bags the finished apple pies for the freezer and everyone sits down at the end to enjoy the few apple pies that were baked especially for “testing.”
Along with raising awareness and funds, we wanted to build bonds in our congregation through service. We cut apples as we traded life stories. We rolled crust as we learned how someone’s mother had rolled hers. We taught those who didn’t know what spices to use. We affirmed that volunteering together is a great way of being together and an excellent way of maintaining mental health.
Our recently renovated church basement was the perfect place for the pie sale. It was a pleasure to share it with our pie-loving customers who either took home their frozen apple pies—to be baked at their own convenience—or sit at our café tables enjoying coffee or cider and generous slabs of on-site baked pumpkin pie. Baking instructions and information about NAMI were handed out to every customer.
What a thrill it was to send a check for $1,000 to NAMI Finger Lakes to benefit its Family-to-Family program!
Brigitt Schaffner, NAMI Finger Lakes President said: “Events like this mean a lot to our volunteers. It is heartening to be recognized for our contributions to the community. And it’s a great reminder for our Family-to-Family facilitators to see just how important this program is and how long-lasting its effects.”
Mental Health Month is just around the corner. If your congregation, school, office, town, campus, book club, family, sports team—whatever!—is looking to get involved and raise awareness and funds for NAMI, consider a bake sale. Or organize a walk. Or a lemonade stand. Remember the wise words of Dr. Marchell: No matter how modest your efforts, do the best with what you have. The human capacity for finding meaning and purpose through service is a beautiful thing. Not to mention that NAMI, and the millions of family and friends of the individuals who live with mental illness will thank you for your efforts, whatever they may be.
Elizabeth Mount is a member of Forest Home Chapel, Ithaca, NY and graduate of NAMI Family-to-Family. She is one of the joyful organizers of this “Drive by Pie Sale” whose profits went to support the Family-to-Family program of NAMI Finger Lakes.