Donuts are a unique part of the Oak Park Farmers Market. You may wonder how and why the sale of donuts started. When I asked Lee Capps, a member of the Donut Committee and a Pilgrim Church member for over 30 years, he shared some of the history:
“On the first market day in 1976, three Pilgrim members spent a Saturday morning around a home fryer, cooking three donuts (and holes) at a time from Pillsbury biscuits with the centers cut out. The church netted $65 and decided to continue. For several years the entire operation was done in the church kitchen with three or four Pilgrim members sugaring and powdering the donuts. Members would come in at 6 a.m. to set things up, and frequently stayed until noon to clean up. A few youngsters served as runners, and the minister occasionally served as the cashier. It was a lot of work to do every Saturday, but members were committed to raising money for church outreach and building maintenance. The church also enjoyed playing host to the community, a benefit they had not anticipated.”
Now there is a restaurant-quality fryer in the kitchen and, during the season, Pilgrim hosts the donut operation from 3:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. The church provides full staffing for six of those Saturdays, and other organizations staff the remaining Saturdays under the supervision of Pilgrim shift captains. It requires 37 people for the donut operation each Saturday. Donut making is serious business and there are job descriptions and a procedure manual.
The donuts are not only sweet to eat, but the profits enable area nonprofits, community groups, schools, civic groups, service organizations and churches to raise money for their own organizations.
Capps also noted that, “In 2023, twenty other nonprofits are using donut sales to raise money for their missions and creating more visibility in the community. The revenue from the sales goes to cover costs, and the net is split between contributing to Pilgrim Church’s mission and the work of partner volunteer groups.”
When asked about the popularity of the donuts, Capps said, “It seems that people appreciate a good donut made by hand with ‘loving care.’ The donuts are fried cake donuts, made from mix and water, served coated in powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar or plain, so there’s nothing extraordinary about the product, but they are consistently high quality.” The donuts come in bags of three or boxes of a dozen.
“On the last Saturday of the season,” Capps added, “wider variety is offered, including varied combinations of chocolate batter, chocolate frosted, and apple frosted. It’s typically a feeding frenzy on that day. Many people love to sit in the shade at the Farmers Market with their coffee, donuts, and friends and listen to folk and bluegrass music. It’s an Oak Park tradition, and families grow up with the anticipation of getting their Pilgrim donuts at the market.”
I, too, like to eat a cinnamon donut while I’m sitting and listening to music. In next month’s story, I’ll focus on the background and behind the scenes of the Oak Park Farmers Market Band.
Joy Aaronson is an Oak Park resident, regular Oak Park Farmers Market shopper, and volunteer at the market. She has contributed to Chicago Parent and written the Kids’ World column for the former Logan Square Free Press.