What did the Noblesville First United Methodist Women do when all of the fundraisers for mission projects had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) pandemic?
No rummage sale. No fish fry. And no Bags, Baskets & Blessings Auction.
“Our United Methodist Women refused to give up,” said Phyllis Hunter, who is organizing this year’s holiday fundraiser for the church.
“The group began to explore other options. If we couldn’t have fundraisers which required groups to gather, we could have a fundraiser where people could donate online,” she said.
Here’s how the fundraiser usually operates.
Every year, Noblesville First United Methodist Church members donate new and nearly new items for the United Methodist Women’s annual Bags, Baskets & Blessings fundraiser.
The first year for the fundraiser was 2011, when $2,850 was raised, said United Methodist Women member Anita Beck. “So this would be our 10th year,” she said.
“Linda Davies was our first auctioneer,” said Margaret Roberts, a UMW member. “We did purses the first year, nothing but purses. Then somebody said, ‘How about baskets?’ So the second year, we added baskets. So it’s just grown … It’s just grown every year. We just have fun making the baskets. It’s a lot of fun for us. It’s fun picking out things.”
The fun event is usually attended by women who enjoy food and fellowship and bid on more than 200 silent auction items that include purses and bags (Coach, Michael Kors and Vera Bradley are among the brand names), themed gift baskets and other hand-crafted donations.
The baskets and purses are usually displayed on decorated tables throughout the church’s Celebration Hall. And each year, the benefit raises funds for the United Methodist Women’s missions. In 2019, the benefit raised $13,000 for their missions.
“It has become one of our biggest fundraisers,” Hunter said.
But with the pandemic, the in-person benefit had to be reimagined.
Yes, reimagined. And “Reimagined” is part of the new name of the fundraiser, which this year is an online store set up to sell purses, bags, jewelry, themed gift baskets and an assortment of donated items.
“The blessings are things that people donate to us,” Hunter said, showing a room set up with tables displayed with purses and jewelry.
As in years past, all money made from the sale goes to the United Methodist Women’s missions.
The online store will be open through November.
Thanks to one woman who wandered in to browse the baskets early on, United Methodist Women are also now open Friday mornings for “Come Take a Look” shopping by appointment. From 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. every Friday at the church, folks can schedule a time slot to come (and bring a friend) to Door 1 and spend a few minutes looking at more than 200 bags and baskets plus other items that continue to be donated. Make a purchase (with cash or check) and take home your item. Masks are required. Call or text organizer Phyllis Hunter at 317-946-0960 to reserve your time.
The second weekend of November will also be a Bags, Baskets & Blessings (BBB) Stroll, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 13 and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 14, in Celebration Hall, by appointment. Those who can’t attend any of the scheduled events may also call Hunter to make arrangements to visit.
To prepare for the shoppers both online and in person, the United Methodist Women gather regularly in small groups, wearing masks while practicing social distancing, and put together baskets.
Early on in the fundraiser, I visited what they refer to as “Basket Central.”
“The basket committee works every week to create a variety of themed creations,” Hunter said. “Using donations and purchased items to complete the ‘look’ we want, we put together the baskets.
They catalogue and price the baskets. “We take a picture of each (basket) before we wrap it, so items can be more clearly seen,” Hunter said. Then each basket is wrapped in cellophane, a bow is added and another photo is snapped. A list of items in the basket is also posted with the photos online for the Bags, Baskets & Blessings Reimagined fundraiser.
There are many, many baskets for sale. In fact, there is a room in the church with shelves floor to ceiling of these beautiful themed baskets, which are also set up in a couple of rooms on tables at the church.
With so many different themes, these baskets make wonderful gifts for birthdays, Christmas, housewarmings, friend gifts, grandma gifts, kid gifts and more.
The “bags,” or purses, for the fundraiser “are carefully sorted, evaluated, catalogued and then photographed for the site,” Hunter said.
The fundraiser is posted on the church’s website so it’s easy to find thanks to volunteer Tina Dillard. “We are indebted to Tina for the many hours she has spent making this online store happen,” Hunter said.
“Because the site changes often, the total of items and the value would be difficult to state,” she said.
In 2019, the church’s United Methodist Women donated more than $28,000 to mission projects raised through their rummage sale, fish and chicken fry and this Bags, Baskets and Blessings fundraiser.
These fundraisers aren’t the only church programs and events that look different this year.
“Pretty much everything was canceled until recently,” Hunter said. “Our staff has worked hard to plan online church services and to plan outdoor services at Teter Retreat (& Farm in Noblesville), with social distancing. (The final outdoor service this year at Teter Retreat was Sunday.) Indoor worship returns at 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. this Sunday in the church sanctuary with reservations, and family worship is expected to begin Nov. 1 in Celebration Hall with blankets and lawn chairs and social distancing between family groups.
“Although choir practices have been canceled for now, many of our very talented musicians are sharing their talents in small groups during the online and outdoor services,” Hunter said. “Our catch phrase during this time has been, and continues to be, ‘The doors are closed, but God is open.’ Even with the doors closed, ministry continues with feeding the hungry and caring for the congregation.”
“With no income from the rummage sale or the fish and chicken fry, because of COVID-19, we are hoping to do well with the Bags, Baskets and Blessings Reimagined,” she said.
“We have some beautiful items to sell.”
Folks who make a purchase online can pick up item(s) at the church. Items purchased before noon each week on Thursdays can be picked up at Door No. 1 between 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Fridays. Plus, folks can enjoy a “Come Take A Look” on Fridays and “BBB Stroll” the second weekend in November.
Hunter said, “ So don't miss out. Come join the BBB Reimagined shopping fun. Remember that UMW missions will be the winners when this is done.”

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.