Paczki certainly don’t qualify as “good for you,” laden as they are with all the butter, eggs, sugar, and other indulgent ingredients that observant Catholics try to forego during Lent, the 40-day period of spiritual preparation before Easter.
But they are good for your soul, if not your waistline. And if you buy them at the ONE Village Council’s 24th annual three day, pre-Lenten Paczki Day sale next week, they’re good for the community, as well.
Round as they are, one could almost consider that paczki [POONCH-key] are a bit representative of the circle of life and of continuity. Although the Old North End is still known by some as “Polish Village,” Council Vice President Beth Lewandowski — who is recognized around town as “The Paczki Lady,” thanks to her many years of dedication to the sale — said that over the past two decades new Latino, African-American, and Middle Eastern residents have brought an ethnic mix and “a lot of flavor to the neighborhood.” But just as everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Polish on Paczki Day.
According to the neighborhood’s Web site, unitednorth.org, “The first Paczki Day in 1990 was developed by the Lagrange Village Council to raise some much needed funds for neighborhood improvements. It has blossomed into a major neighborhood event that attracts not only residents from our ONE Village community, but also the surrounding region.”
And where do the paczki come from? Why, they come from Paczki Land, of course. It’s a place where calories don’t count, and where the bakers have managed to procure the famous Meinke Bakery recipe that was often “proclaimed one of the best in the city,” according to Ms. Lewandowski, before the business closed years ago. The paczki are “buscia [BOO-shuh] approved” — sanctioned by Polish grandmothers who performed rigorous taste tests for authentication.
Many people will come to the sale on the first day, Sunday, after church services. Still others come on Monday, particularly after work, in order to have their paczki ready to enjoy the next morning. But the majority will come on Pazcki Day itself, or Fat Tuesday, to revel with other celebrants on this day of indulgence; activities and entertainment will include games, music, media coverage, and more. Some devoted individuals will even come all three days, unable to resist the lure.
Council members said that they knew of a man who once came up to Toledo from Tennessee, unable to find paczki in his new state; as community organizer Ramon Perez noted, people “just really want to keep that tradition in their homes.” “It’s the love,” Chere LeGrant, council president, emphasized with regard to the tradition of eating pazcki before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. “It was the family thing,” This year, the Council also intends to fulfill pazcki orders for military personnel stationed away from the area, to “give them a sense of home.”
Mr. Perez said there is “a lot of pride” in the Old North End neighborhood, and residents want “to dispel a lot of the myths” about the area. People who live there are described as “dedicated to the death” to the community; the ONE Village Council is comprised primarily of devoted volunteers, and Mr. Perez is the only paid employee. This dedication is particularly in evidence during the annual Paczki Day sale, which involves a tremendous amount of planning and organizing throughout the year in addition to repeated trips to Paczki Land with a rented truck to pick up so many of the delicious treats for hungry eaters. Volunteers, and avid buyers starting to line up, will be ready to share the love (and the calories) as early as 4 a.m. March 4.
The three-day sale will find thousands of people reveling in Toledo’s own version of Fat Tuesday, when more than 1,500 dozen paczki will be purchased. There has been no price increase since last year, so you’ll be able to buy a half-dozen paczki for $7 or a full dozen for $13. And no matter what your favorite flavor is, you will find it: apple, apricot, blueberry, chocolate, custard, lemon, prune, raisin, and raspberry. For the old-fashioned traditionalists, there will also be plain (unfilled) ones. All proceeds from the sale will benefit residents’ interests and concerns, from safety and health to jobs and education. As Mr. Perez said, “It all comes back to the neighborhood.”