PEPPERELL -- The halls were decked at the Pepperell Community Church last Saturday as the church hosted its annual Christmas Fair.
Holly and rows of colorful lights wrapped around the pillars of the parish house as local residents dropped in throughout the morning to peruse handmade gifts by local artisans, donated items ranging from jewelry to books and to enter the church's raffles for an array of themed gift baskets. Shoppers could pick their pleasure; gift baskets sported everything from winter wonderland themes complete with hot cocoa and snowmen paraphernalia to a cat theme.
"It's a warm, inviting place for anyone to come to get a cup of hot cocoa and some affordable shopping," said Nancy Hynes, church member and the organizer of the event. "Everything is handmade or donated. We don't have any vendors here, we put this all together."
Hynes, who has been organizing the fair for the past three years, said the annual event goes as far back as she can remember.
"Almost forever and a day," she said.
Every year, a hot lunch buffet and a silent auction fill the rooms in the vestry. Santa Claus and his wife come to pose for photos with the children. Meanwhile, as a steady stream of adults meander through the rows of gifts to buy, the upper floor of the parish house is transformed from wall to wall into a confectionary dream for the younger crowd, complete with stations for designing gingerbread houses and frosting cookies to face-painting and ornament making.
For the most part, said Hynes, the event has remained consistent throughout the years.
That is, with the exception of the centerpiece of the main room, greeting people as soon as they walked in the door: a NFL football signed by Tom Brady, complete with letter of authenticity that a church member had donated, which was being raffled off for $5 tickets.
Hynes said it would not have come together without the volunteer effort from the church members.
"The best part every year is seeing everyone come together and work to make it happen," said Hynes. "Everyone is there and willing to help."
Shopper Sherley Blood-Thom said although she is not a member of the Pepperell Community Church, the annual event was her favorite day of the year.
"Just the way people put so much time and attention into making things," she said. "It's a whole lot of fun seeing people you know. It's a very community atmosphere and it puts me in the holiday spirit."
The added benefit, she said, was being able to contribute to the town as she got some holiday shopping done.
"It puts money back in the local community, so I like spending my money here," she said.
Other shoppers, like Carolyn Whitmore and her daughter, Cassandra, passed the church on the way to other destinations and decided to take a peek inside.
"We were on our way to see our horses and wanted to come see what the Community Church had to offer," said Whitmore.
Only a few minutes in, Cassandra had found a gift idea for her horse trainer.
"We're here with other people in mind," said Carolyn.
Meanwhile, other attendees didn't come to shop at all. David Makros had brought his children for a sole purpose.
"To see Santa Claus," he said.
The money raised from the fair isn't earmarked for anything in particular; it goes to the church's general fund.
"It's one of the biggest fundraising events we have," said Hynes. "It helps to support the church in terms of anything with the building's upkeep."
For instance, the church recently had its steeple replaced.
"We consider (the church) a very important, historic part of downtown," said Hynes. "(We want) to keep our town looking beautiful."