The holidays smell like syrup and lemon meringue pie at one of Dayton’s oldest churches.
This week, a band of volunteers — among them a brigade of women working waffle irons — will continue a Dayton tradition started in 1929.
“Waffle Shop is the signature fundraiser for Christ Episcopal Church,” Greg Sexton, the event’s chair, said. “We open our doors to the community, and offer a delicious waffle and sausage lunch as well as gracious hospitality to all that come in... a warm welcome.”
This year’s event is set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19 to Friday, Nov. 22. at the church 20 W. First St. in downtown Dayton.
“You'll see that we have a table lined up of waffle bakers. (The waffle is) baked right in front of your eyes,” Sexton said. “It comes off that iron hot and ready to go just for you. And then we have specialty toppings to go with it, soups and sandwiches if you'd prefer that. It's just a wonderful experience.”
Congregants make lemon meringue pie. Chocolate pie and other desserts come from Ashley’s Pastry Shop in Oakwood.
The quarter-pound sausage links are from Landes Fresh Meats in Clayton.
A sausage and a waffle cost $6.50. Sandwiches cost $4 each.
Piano players from Stivers School for the Arts will perform Thursday and members of the school’s chorus will sing Friday.
Guest waffle bakers include Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley; WHIO Radio host Dan Edwards; and Dayton Philharmonic Conductor Neal Gittleman.
The sanctuary of the church established in 1831 and located at 20 W. First St. since 1871, is transformed into Elsie's Attic for the event. Home goods, Christmas items, clothing and other items are sold.
Times have changed, but at its core, Waffle Shop is the same.
Ninety years ago, the Women of the Parochial Society — one of eight women’s groups at the church at the time — were inspired by a similar sale Mrs. Rowan A. Greer saw at a church in Memphis.
The first Waffle Shop included a bazaar and “Waffles and Maple Syrup from Maple Trees and Coffee... .25c” and “Waffles with Pig Meat Sausage or Creamed Chicken.....40c,” according to the church’s 75th Diamond Jubilee Anniversary Waffle Shop History booklet by Phyllis B. Risner.
They served 1,635 people over a dozen days, earning $290.40
Baked goods, chicken noodle soup and sandwiches were added the following year.
“The first waffle shop was a flop, but every year we’ve gotten better. The volunteers used their own waffle irons, but the kitchen was under-wired so all the irons blew up.” Blanche Dale told the Dayton Daily News in 1963, according to the church record.
Men started helping with the sale in 1958 when Rev. Gordon Price became the rector and got involved.
The event now attracts 1,600 to 2,000 people annually.
In 2018, Waffle Shop raised $23,400, Sexton said.
Christ Episcopal, a 125-member congregation, gave $17,877 from the sale away in grants to a list of local charities that includes House of Bread, CityHeart, the annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Dayton Convention Center and Daybreak, a nonprofit that offers shelter and other services to homeless youth.
Sexton and Tom Schaefer, a Waffle Shop volunteer for 15 years, said the charities focus on the poor and marginalized.
“It really goes to try to make the world a better place. We're trying to make Dayton a better place,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer said his wife, who like him is a retired school teacher, would take a day off work to volunteer for Waffle Shop.
He was reluctant to do so until he retired.
“It gets in your blood. You just get a feel for it. It's a special, special thing,” he said, recalling that the late Dale Huffman, a longtime Dayton Daily News columnist, called it one of a Dayton’s oldest holiday traditions. “That's something to be proud of. So it's just a part of its heritage you know part of this is what we do year to year and it's a really cool gift that Christ Church really gives to Dayton and it feels really good that it's our turn to be able to do that.”
About 50 volunteers will work at Waffle Shop each day, including members of Christ Episcopal, First Baptist Church on Monument Avenue, Living Beatitudes Community and Eternal Joy Metropolitan Community Church.
Living Beatitudes and Eternal Joy hold services in Christ Episcopal’s building.
After 90 years, Sexton says Christ Episcopal knows the waffle games like the back of its hand.
“We've got the process pretty well down,” he said. “We'd be happy to welcome all to a wonderful lunch (and) to shop at our holiday bazaar, Elsie's Attic, which has numerous items in the rummage sale.”