Enchilada sale fundraiser back in full swing this year at St. Mary's Catholic Church

Annual eent raises money for church youth group

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 2 at the St. Mary's Parish Center, 2100 E. 20th St. in Farmington.
  • The enchiladas are sold for $10 a dozen, while the red chile goes for $9 a quart.
  • Both are sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

FARMINGTON — There are plenty of annual fundraising events held in San Juan County. But few, if any of them stimulate the taste buds the way the Cheese Enchilada and Red Chile Takeout fundraiser at St. Mary's Catholic Church do.

The beloved annual sale, which takes place from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 2 at the St. Mary's Parish Center, 2100 E. 20th St. in Farmington, is now in its 23rd year and remains as popular as ever. When asked how the event has managed to avoid going stale after nearly a quarter century, one of its founders, Millie Howle, maintained the answer is obvious.

"Have you ever had our chile sauce?" she asked rhetorically, a hint of impatience creeping into her voice.

Howle and the event's other founder, Lucy Alvarado, are anticipating some pent-up demand for the sale this year after last year's fundraiser was held in only a limited fashion because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers sold their famous red chile by the quart, but there were no piping-hot cheese enchiladas sold because of the prohibition on large gatherings in New Mexico at the time.

In previous years:St. Mary's still keeping it simple for 20th annual enchilada fundraiser

Members of the St. Mary's Catholic Church Youth Group prepare enchiladas for take-out orders during the 2020 fundraiser at the church.

Howle and Alvarado work several days in advance to prepare for the event, cleaning and grinding the chile pods, then adding the other ingredients for the sauce. Alvarado, who moved to Las Cruces a few years ago but still returns to Farmington each year to lend a hand in the event, drives the chiles up from Deming herself.

All in all, the event requires the work of 25 to 30 adults and 10 to 20 young people who do everything from frying the tortillas, assembling the enchiladas and bottling the sauce to taking orders, carrying out cartons of enchiladas for those who need help and cleaning up the kitchen.

The event itself is a model of simplicity. The enchiladas and the bottled sauce are the only two items sold at the event, allowing the proceedings to unfold quickly and efficiently. Howle said that since the event takes place on Ash Wednesday each year, it makes sense to offer the community an uncomplicated but savory meatless meal that can be widely shared while reflecting Catholic traditions.

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"We talked about adding a sit-down meal at one point, but that takes a lot more work," she said, referring to the numerous state rules and regulations that go along with organizing an event of that nature.

Besides, she said, most regular patrons of the event seem to enjoy the idea of being able to pick up ready-made enchiladas for a quick and easy lunch or dinner.

"I don't think we could feed as many people with a sit-down dinner as we do for a take-out thing," she said.

Howle said most of the supplies for the fundraiser are donated and the labor is volunteer, so the event usually generates in the neighborhood of $15,000 for the church's youth group.

By late last week, Howle said she already had started to receive orders for bottled chile, and she knows a line will begin to form in the parish center shortly after the doors open on Wednesday. The first year of the fundraiser, Howle and Alvarado sold out by noon, so now they go to great lengths to accommodate as many customers as possible and avoid disappointing people.

At some point, Howle said she and Alvarado know they will need to pass responsibility for the event to someone else. But that day has not yet arrived, she said.

Event cofounder Millie Howle ladles red chile on an order during the 2020 Cheese Enchilada and Red Chile Takeout fundraiser at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Farmington.

"Well, you know, we're sure getting older," she said, explaining that when the fundraiser began, her children were in the middle teens. Now, they're adults and have children of their own who are part of the youth group that benefits from the sale.

"Maybe we'll reach the 25th year and then pass the baton," she said.

How to get your enchiladas

The enchiladas are sold for $10 a dozen, while the red chile goes for $9 a quart. Both are sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measerling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.