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Meat pies help keep the doors open and the lights on

'Money raised stays at this branch. It's used for operations. We're actually very limited because of the age of the members in what we can actually do to keep our doors open'

Some have described it as a little piece of heaven. It's that unbelievably delicious aroma of freshly baked meat pies that greets anyone walking through the doors of the West Ferris Legion, on Monday's and Wednesday's, also known as bake days.

Volunteers begin arriving at 5:30 in the morning to set up for the day. Anywhere from six to 12 volunteers roll up their sleeves to bake hundreds of pies.

"In a typical day, the volunteers bake 264 pies. We use three commercial bags of flour, 264 pounds of meat and two, 40-pound boxes of lard and all the other assorted spices that go into them," explains Tod Russell secretary for West Ferris Legion Branch 599.  

The legion has been selling pies since 1986. Now, more than three decades later, the fundraiser has grown from the 300 pies baked in the first year, to over 5,500 last year. This year's target is 6,000 pies, raising roughly $28,000 for the branch's operating budget. It helps keep the doors open and the lights on. 

"The money raised from this stays within the branch. It's used for operations. We're actually very limited because of the age of a lot of our members, in what we can actually do to fundraise to keep our doors open. We're down to about 100 members from a high of about 260 in the early 90's," says Russell.

A declining membership and escalating costs mean finances are tight.  

"Every year the operating costs go up. We would like to get to the point where we've built a little bit of a reserve ahead of us in the event that something major does go wrong," says Russell. "About seven or eight years ago, we replaced the roof on the building and it was $25,000 in shingles just to redo the roof. We were fortunate with that one because we did tie into some government money to complete that project, but it still took a good sized portion out of our coffers."

Roughly half of the bake crew are members, the rest of them are friends and people in the community willing to volunteer.

Now in his early 80's, Joe Girard is a 22-year member of the legion and has been a volunteering to make pies for the past eight years.

"I like the camaraderie. It's the same group every year. It's a core group that does the meat pies," says Girard. "Every fall I look forward to it, from the third week in September to the first week in December, every Monday and Wednesday. It's great. It helps break the boredom for one thing."   

Lea Bale has been volunteering at this job for 12 years. Her husband was a life member of the legion. 

"I enjoy doing it. I take the pies from the oven, cool them, put them onto another table ready to be boxed up, and I take orders over the phone and sell them when people come in to buy their pies," explains Bale. "I've always enjoyed being around people, so I like the social part of this. This is the only time I see a lot of the regulars. Where I worked previously, I used to see them on a continuous basis, and now when they come here I get to meet them again."

The legion has built a solid reputation for its mouth-watering pies. At $11 a pie, people can choose from no garlic, regular and the popular extra-garlic.

With over 760 pies sold early on, people are already sending e-mails and phoning the legion to put in their orders to avoid hearing those disappointing  words "we're sold out."