This Saturday, Mary Norris and the Guilford Civic Women (GCW) will be front and center at the 35th Harvest Festival, serving up their signature apple crisp and raising money to give back to their community.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Harvest Festival, which takes place rain or shine on Saturday, Sept. 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Guilford Green. Co-chaired by Mary with Amy Mickelson, it’s GCW’s signature fundraiser to benefit local charitable contributions. Admission, as always, is free.
With a pop-up village of crafters’ tents, a range of interesting activities set up for kids; a Silent Auction; Beautiful Baby Contest; Precious Pets Contest; fair-favorite foods including hamburgers, hotdogs, pizza; and line-up of live music and performers filling Harvest Festival, it might be hard to imagine this favorite fall event was built around GCW’s homemade apple crisp.
Those pans of the classic New England dessert, prepared by GCW members each fall for 35 years, helped build the festival. GCW members still follow the same time-tested apple crisp recipe and are grateful for a big assist from Bishop’s Orchards, which donates all the apples. The generous annual donation helps GCW keeps costs down and generate more funds from each sale.
“The more we have donated, the more that we can put out to local charities,” says Mary, who thanks Bishop’s for also donating apples to help GCW promote Harvest Festival during the Guilford Fair Parade.
“We now march in the parade and hand out apples Bishop’s gives us, with little flyers saying come back next week to see us on the Green at the Harvest Festival,” says Mary. “It would be great if people came out to enjoy this wonderful day and help us support our community.”
Harvest Festival is GCW’s largest annual fundraising event, and to mark it’s 35th year, Mary is encouraging GCW to set a significant fundraising goal.
“I’d love to bring in $10,000 for our 35th year,” she says.
Mary adds that will only be possible if “people come out.” Festival-goers can help by making a bid at the day’s Silent Auction, voting in the Beautiful Baby and Precious Pets contests, purchasing food, and buying tickets for children’s games, all while enjoying free entertainment and perusing crafters’ wares.
GCW members solicit donations for to build an impressive array of silent auction offerings, including ski passes with use of a vacation condominium, Disney Park Hopper passes, an autographed Boston Red Sox baseball, an autographed Eli Manning New York Giants lithograph, and plenty of gift certificates from “our wonderfully generous area merchants,” says Mary.
Harvest Festival proceeds help non-profit GCW continue local support such as its annual sponsorship of the Guilford Free Library Summer Reading Program. GCW also supports many other local efforts, including contributions to Guilford Emergency Fuel Fund, Guilford Food Bank, Project Graduation, Women & Family Life Center, ABC House, Guilford Youth & Family Services, and Guilford Seniors, as well as a scholarship for a graduating Guilford High School senior.
GCW was established in 1985 and continues to be composed of women who gather together regularly and hold events to support individuals and groups in need in Guilford, and in some cases the shoreline towns beyond.
“We’re really community minded and also very fluid in what we can do as a group to respond to needs,” Mary says. “It’s very self-generated. If you’re a member and you have an idea, you can put it out there. Like this summer’s food drive, which we did for the first time. I had talked to Tammy [DeFrancesco of Guilford Social Services] and she said there was a little dip in food bank donations in the summer. So we put a food drive together with help from a new member, Barbara Kenney, who also organizes an annual food drive [for Guilford Veterinary Hospital]. She really got everything going, and we had tremendous of support from Guilford Walmart and the community.”
Mary notes another new GCW member is putting her efforts toward enhancing the entertainment line-up at this year’s Harvest Festival.
“Last year, for the first time, we had the town stage at the festival, and Laura Clapp, who is a very good singer, sang, and then we got her as a member,” says Mary. “This year, she has arranged for a big line up of musicians who will be donating their time. We also have the School of Rock [of Madison] loaning their sound system, which is great.”
Mary also thanks the Town of Guilford Parks & Recreation Department for supporting the festival and donating the use of the town stage on the Green. In addition to performances by Laura Clapp and School of Rock student musicians, The Harvest Festival’s free entertainment line-up includes performances by Neighborhood Music School, The Overtones (a high school a cappella group), Shoreline Ballet, Guilford Ramblers (a bluegrass band), the Harris Roane Duo, and Dawn Foss.
GCW invites new members interested in joining the non-profit organization to learn more at the group’s website, www.guilfordcivicwomen.org.
“We’d love to have more people,” says Mary. “The Civic Women are made up of a pretty broad spectrum of women. In a way, I think it’s nice to be involved in something that’s not just related to your kids or your job. You might not necessarily know what someone does for the community in their off hours or away from their career.”
A Guilford resident since 1999, Mary immediately became involved with the community through her husband, Kendrick Norris Ph.D., who served as senior minister of Guilford First Congregational Church for 36 years. Kendrick retired in 2013 (he’s now pastor emeritus) and entered a new chapter, opening a private Guilford practice as a Jungian analyst.
“The idea when he left was to step away from the church” to allow new leadership to foster connections, Mary explains, adding, “Of course, I miss the church! I loved being involved in that.”
Mary was assisting Kendrick with his church ministry when she joined GCW many years ago, and she’s still very grateful she signed on.
“Because I was involved with the Civic Women, I still have a great connection to the community,” she says.
Mary was first drawn to join GCW when she learned this Guilford group helps Santa answer those letters little ones drop off at holiday time, in the special red mailbox outside Page’s Hardware and Appliance Co. Santa’s Mailbox opens for business annually on the night of the town Tree Lighting.
“I thought, ‘Any group that helps Santa to answer his letters, I’m in!’” says Mary, laughing. “That’s a great tradition. Page’s paints the box and brings it in and out, and Guilford Civic Women help Santa.”
Mary has also remained involved in her community through Guilford Youth Mentoring (GYM), volunteering as a GYM mentor with Guilford elementary and Baldwin Middle School children for more than 11 years, and counting.
“That’s a great group, too. Guilford Youth Mentoring really does a lot, and it’s a lot of fun to be involved with the kids,” says Mary. “Guilford’s a great town. I love what goes on the Green, I love seeing everyone come out to enjoy events like the Harvest Festival. It’s the heart of this town, from the Little Folks Fair to the fact that the high school graduation is on the Green.”