Thursday, March 21, 2019
With fire gloves in hand, Rick Braithwaite of West Concord Fire Department removes a hot-fired pizza from the ovens at Berne Pizza. Braithwaite volunteers every other week throughout the summer firing pizzas for hundreds of guests at the Berne Summer Concert series on the grounds of Zwingli Church. The ovens reach heat of about 1,200 degrees.

A slice of volunteerism

Volunteers key to bringing pizzas to hungry guests

As hundreds flock to tiny Berne every Wednesday for a mid-week pizza party, dozens of people behind the scenes are making the novelty event enjoyable for everyone.

From cashiers to pizza makers to people manning the hot ovens and serving the freshly fired pizzas, volunteers are needed to serve as many as 800 pizzas each week. It’s no easy task and takes 60 volunteers each night to pull off. 

Jeremy Wahlstrom of Faith Lutheran Church in Dodge Center took her turn with helping out last week on the grounds of Zwingli Church for Berne Pizza’s summer season. She was turning flat cardboard into pizza boxes ready to be loaded with fresh wood-fired pizza. 

“Volunteering. That’s what we do,” said Wahlstrom as she got yet another box ready to go. “Service is the price you pay for living.”

A group of volunteers from Faith Lutheran helped with various jobs last week. It was the group’s first time of volunteering at Berne Pizza. 

Zwingli Church pays $50 for a full shift, and $25 for a half shift, for each volunteer to the organization they represent, according to Angela Organ, coordinator of Berne Pizza. She said the pizza event allows many organizations around the area to raise thousands of dollars throughout the 13-week summer season. 

Organ said some organizations end up making as much as $6,000 throughout the entire summer for sending volunteers. 

In Faith Lutheran’s case, the money they raise from working at the pizza event will be used for the church’s Pantry of Faith, a food distribution center for needy folks in Dodge County. Under the previous food shelf Faith Lutheran operated, they served about 40 families each month. The Pantry of Faith just started in May.

West Concord Fire and Ambulance sends six members every other week throughout the summer, according to Rick Braithwaite, a volunteer firefighter. The money they raise is used to purchase equipment and tools for the department.

But Braithwaite quickly points out they’re not out there for the money. “We just want to give back to the community,” he said. “People never see us unless they are in need,” he added.

Braithwaite enjoys manning the wood-fired ovens, which get up to about 1,200 degrees. Pizzas are fired for three minutes, but need to be constantly rotated. 

Asked if it’s a hot job, Braithwaite responded holding up his hands, “These are fire gloves and my hands are burning. If you don’t leave with a blister, you weren’t working hard enough.”

Other groups that helped out last week were Mantorville Theatre, St. Paul’s Lutheran of Pine Island and Faith in Action of Dodge County. There is also a core group of volunteers from Zwingli Church that help out every week. Sixty percent of the volunteers are from Zwingli while 40 percent come from other organizations, Organ said. Throughout the summer, more than 400 volunteers will be utilized to help put on the pizza events.

“It’s a very effective way for groups to make money without very little planning and risk,” Organ said, adding that most of the organization is done by her and other volunteers from Zwingli. 

There is a waiting list of community organizations wishing to help out, according to Organ. She has at least seven organizations that won’t be able to assist at all this year. 

Organizations don’t only benefit from providing volunteers. Each year Berne Pizza selects 12 non-profit charities to donate the money raised from the pizza nights. Organ said “it’s pretty moving” to hear how the charities utilize their donations from Berne. “It’s touching. One hundred percent goes directly to the source,” she said, noting there are no administrative costs involved. 

“Our mission is to help people locally as well as abroad,” Organ said. 

Berne Pizza has proven to be beneficial in other ways. Zwingli Church has gained members from volunteers that helped out. “A lot of small churches are dying. We’re not,” Organ said. “People come here and want to be a part of it—the growth and fellowship in our own congregation.”

Organ said the neat part about it is “these random people end up in the middle of no where.” 

It leaves volunteers like Wahlstrom impressed with the work being done. “Everything out here is volunteering,” she says. “It’s amazing the coordination it takes for a tiny little church to pull this off.”

Wahlstrom said it’s a nice way to spend a Wednesday night.

Oh, yeah don’t forget about the pizza. 

“It’s darn good pizza,” she said.

See full story in this week’s print edition or subscribe online. Please subscribe here or current subscribers can login here.

Steele County Times & DCI

Steele County Times
411 E. Main St.
P.O. Box 247
Blooming Prairie, MN 55917

Dodge County Independent
121 West Main St.
Kasson, MN 55944

Dodge County Printing
121 West Main St.
Kasson, MN 55944


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