by Joe Bollig
SABETHA — Forget the Yellow Brick Road. For parishioners here in Sabetha, the road to the biennial National Catholic Youth Conference is paved with burritos.
That’s right — burritos, and thousands of them.
It can be difficult to raise funds to send parish youth to NCYC. The clustered parishes of Sacred Heart in Sabetha, St. Augustine in Fidelity, and St. James in Wetmore have found a way to do it thanks to the humble burrito.
If you had stopped by Sacred Heart Parish on April 8 and 9, you would have found nearly 100 volunteers working at a rapid pace — making, packing and delivering thousands of burritos.
A few of those volunteers have been involved in the burrito fundraiser for NCYC since 2010.
It all began in 2009, when the parish sent its first group of youth and chaperones to NCYC in Kansas City, Missouri.
“Our parish was clueless about NCYC until then,” said Laura Fortmeyer, a parent volunteer from Sacred Heart Parish. “[Then-pastor] Father Kent O’Connor encouraged us to look at it, so we decided to give it a shot.”
It was a tremendous experience. Neither the youth nor their chaperones had ever been among so many Catholic youths in their life. It was exciting.
“We came back thinking, ‘Our kids have got to go to this,’” said Fortmeyer. “We knew that we needed to do some fundraising because the next NCYC was going to be in Indianapolis, and we wanted to keep it affordable.”
They needed something big — bigger than bake sales or pancake breakfasts.
Because they lived east of Sabetha, the Fortmeyers sent their daughters to Hiawatha High School. The school had a biology club that raised money by making and selling burritos so it could send students on a marine biology study trip every four years.
“We made burritos with them,” said Fortmeyer. “We realized they were really easy to sell, and could be a possibility for us.”
The teacher at Hiawatha was very generous and shared all the club’s burrito secrets. Fortmeyer took the idea back to Sacred Heart, and their first burrito effort was undertaken in 2010.
The inaugural burrito launch was led by a core group consisting of Fortmeyer, Ann Busch and Nikki McAfee. The three were joined by other parents, relatives, family members and teens going to NCYC.
Since then the tri-parish youth ministry has refined its system and has sold an increasing number of burritos.
The youth and adult chaperones going to NCYC pre-sell the burritos; each person must sell approximately $150 worth. Most of the ingredients are bought, but some donated ground beef is mixed in with the rest of the purchased seasoned beef.
They make three kinds of burritos: Beef and cheese, rice and black bean, and beef. Seventy-five percent of the burritos made are beef and cheese.
In 2013, they had 64 volunteers who produced 6,000 burritos. It took about four hours to make, pack and ship those burritos. This year, they mobilized 95 volunteers, who assembled some 12,000 burritos over the weekend of April 8 and 9.
In addition to the two days for producing burritos, the volunteers put in three weeks for planning, two weeks of sales, and eight hours of rice cooking, said Ann Busch, a member of the core team.
The cost per person to attend NCYC is slightly more than $500, of which $300 is now paid for by burrito sales. It makes a big difference, especially for families sending more than one child to NCYC.
“The wonderful thing about our burrito fundraiser is that the parents and the children are only required to pay $100 out of pocket [toward NCYC],” said Busch. “Other than that, with a little parish assistance, [a participant is] able to pay for their full tuition for NCYC with one fundraiser per year.”
Gina Sallman, director of faith formation for the three parishes, has never seen a NCYC fundraising effort on this scale.
“As a former youth minister for many years, fundraising is always something so challenging,” she said. “Ministers are always looking for something that will go over well, and get family involvement and community support. When I got here in 2014, the level of support for this fundraiser just blew me away. It’s so impressive.”
Part of the fundraising success is that the burritos are so good.
“We have people asking about them before Christmas,” said Busch. “They say, ‘When are you going to have more burritos?’ People ask if we have any extra. They’re really well-received.”
Burritos are a great convenience food for families on the go, for retirees who don’t want to cook, and for people who are cooking- impaired.
People like Father Barry Clayton, pastor of the three parishes.
“I’ve been pretty much eating burritos lately,” said Father Clayton. “My freezer is stuffed with burritos. I’m a lousy cook. They’re an easy food to pop in the microwave. They’re ready in a couple of minutes.”
The next NCYC will take place in Indianapolis, Indiana, in fall 2017.