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Denny and Marge Rutter say they literally work for peanuts when they volunteer at Winstead United Methodist Church. Volunteers get one 7-ounce jar of water-blanched peanuts for each shift they pull. The fresh, salty peanuts are a good trade for several hours of work with friends.
Last Tuesday, the Rutters had peanut-packing duty. They filled glass jars with hot peanuts and packed them in cardboard cases.
Those cases might be headed to Food Lion or Harris Teeter in Wilson or to grocery stores or other customers in other towns. Or they could be shipped to an out-of-state customer or stored at the church for local residents to purchase.
Peanut cooking day is a ritual that’s repeated several times each month at the church — more around the holidays when the demand is higher. Volunteer teams work in shifts, and before the year’s end, they pack around 50,000 jars of peanuts.
The peanut operation began in the early 1990s, when church member Aubrey Anderson bought a jar of peanuts at the beach. Anderson, who is now deceased, noticed a church had packaged the tasty peanuts. Linda Lane, Winstead church member and peanut volunteer, said Anderson contacted that church and learned its process of cooking and packaging the peanuts.
Anderson thought it would be a good project for the Methodist Men at Winstead.
“Well, it just evolved,” Lane said, adding it soon became a church-wide project. “It just grew.”
Crews of around four people tackle the job of cooking and packing peanuts. In all, there are 25 to 30 people who volunteer with the peanut project. Jobs include attaching labels to the jars, driving to the Mt. Olive pickle plant to pick up 240 cases of jars and delivering peanuts to stores.
Volunteers have followed the same routine so many times and make it look easy.
Last week, the Rev. George Loveland was on kitchen duty. The church kitchen is transformed for cooking day with cardboard placed on the floor to catch any oil that drops and three deep fryers set up on the industrial stove.
The peanuts are purchased in the Northampton County town of Severn — 100 cases at a time with 30 pounds in each case. The peanuts have been shelled by the time they are purchased and are green and blanched.
One of the first steps in the cooking process is to soak them in the big sinks in the church kitchen that has been adapted for this project. A new building under construction at Winstead’s future site on Airport Boulevard will have a kitchen set up for the peanuts. The peanut facility can also be used as a meeting space, Loveland said.
Once the peanuts have soaked and drained, they are moved to big wash tubs. Next, they take a 10-minute bath in the deep fryer.
On Tuesday, Denny Rutter moved back and forth from the kitchen to an attached room, carrying trays of hot peanuts. He and his wife packed the peanuts while they were still hot, forming a seal.
Loveland said the peanut ministry helps the congregation keep the space they are in, helps the church purchase such things as Sunday school supplies and pays the bills for big projects, including roofing and HVAC issues. The church youth ministry also benefits.
The church donates 10 percent of its earnings to charities including Meals on Wheels, Hope Station, La Estrella, United Methodist Committee on Relief and Seeds of Hope Wilson.
There’s a lot of fellowship on peanut days, Loveland said, saying he looks forward to the laughter and fun as well as the serious conversations that take place over bowls of peanuts.
If you’d like to purchase peanuts directly from the church, they are $2.50 per jar or $26 for a case of 12. Call the church to arrange for pick-up at 252-237-3709.