The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 2, 2012

Andra Bryan Stefanoni: French Club cooks up annual fundraiser to benefit Pittsburg family

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer

PITTSBURG, Kan. — When I rounded the corner of a grocery store aisle at 60 miles an hour, I nearly crashed into a cart of food loaded so full it looked like it had swallowed five of mine.

A woman and teen girl were deep in discussions about how many of this or that to buy. When they turned around and I recognized them, I blurted out what I wanted to ask: “What the heck are you doing with all that food?”

And then I added, “Bonjour.”

The woman was Chris Colyer, the French teacher at Pittsburg High School, and the teen girl was one of her students. The deep discussion was about what food to buy for an annual project the French Club has taken on each year for six years: They sell French cookies during the Christmas season and use part of the money to help a local family.

The group, which numbers 75 kids this year, presells the cookies and then buys staples based on sales. They gathered in the Family and Consumer Sciences room after school last week to make the batter, then formed an assembly cooking-and-packing line at Madame Colyer’s house Friday night, Saturday and part of Sunday.

I know from experience that the undertaking is a delicate and precise process.

My husband’s grandmother, Emma Stefanoni, has made French cookies for Christmas for more years than I have been alive. One year at my request, she showed me how it was done for purposes of family history and for an article I was writing on holiday traditions. It involved rolling the dough in uniform balls, then pressing them using just the right kind of cookie press, just the right temperature and just the right duration to achieve just the right crispness.

My favorite part was that she insisted that the secret ingredient, a jigger of whiskey, was what made her cookies so tasty. Who can argue with a 90-plus-year-old woman who cooks with a jigger of whiskey?

While the French Club doesn’t use whiskey, their cookies are a hit every year. Each student is required to sell at least four dozen, which isn’t a problem, Colyer said. This year they churned out more than 3,000 of them. With the couple of hundred dollars they raise, they’ll help their adopted family with a holiday shopping list.

If they have any left, they’ll hit the pavement to sell the extras, so be on the lookout.

“We also overbake because they want to have enough for sampling, and hey, I’m, a French teacher, not a math teacher,” Colyer said laughingly.

Bird seed fundraiser

This Saturday, local birder Bob Mangile tells me shoppers will have a chance to help with another annual holiday fundraiser that also involves food.

Sperry-Galligar Audubon, the local chapter, will have its wild bird seed sale from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Meadowbrook Mall, with support from both the mall and Blue Ribbon Farm & Home. Club members will be selling 25- and 50-pound bags of black oil sunflower seeds for $16 and $28, 25- and 50-pound bags of wild bird mix for $14 and $22, and 10-pound bags of Nyjer thistle for $14.

All proceeds will benefit local conservation and nature education efforts. And of course, the seed will benefit the birds all winter long.

FOLLOW ANDRA STEFANONI on Facebook at facebook.com/andrajournalist and on Twitter @AndraStefanoni.