The entire efficiency of the Lynden PTA food booth at the annual Northwest Washington Fair rests on two volunteer wrappers. “The wrappers are the cog of the entire thing,” says Tammy Yoder, a 20-plus-year volunteer helping operate the highly active booth. “If they can’t wrap fast enough, it all comes to a screeching halt.”
Nobody wants a screeching halt to a booth full of volunteers churning out some of the most popular menu items on the fairgrounds during the annual six-day event every mid-August, especially with the proceeds from the booth getting returned to Lynden Schools.
Each year, the booth sends roughly $15,000 back into the schools by serving up one of the only breakfasts on the grounds and a popular hamburger with grilled onions, among a variety of other options. Yoder says that as one of the five who runs the booth—she is the longest tenured of the bunch—they break the week down into 24 shifts, four per day. Each shift takes about 16 people to run and different school PTA groups, clubs or activities handle the staffing.
For example, Fisher Elementary fills three shifts on Monday, the high school’s FFA club handles Tuesday and Isom covers a full day. Over the years, art clubs, sports teams and other school groups have taken shifts when school PTA groups have given theirs up.
“All of our money goes back into our local public schools,” Yoder says. The money goes directly to the group in charge of each shift. “If they want to buy playground equipment or computers or fund assemblies or field trips, it all stays within the school system.”
The main PTA keeps a few shifts to help pay for bond and levy promotion and also build up a savings account for the booth so when equipment fails they have the funds to replace it.
“I barely have to ask many people,” she says about staffing the needed slots. “If you get a good shift, you have a blast in those four hours. People are giving back to the community. You are moving sometimes.”
The most popular menu item that keeps the workers moving remains the hamburger with grilled onions. One of the few booths that use fresh meat, Yoder says they order the next day’s round of meat patties by 3 p.m. for the following day. Plus, “people love the grilled onions.”
The kids’ meal hamburger or hot dog meal comes with farm-themed facts and a puzzle, a fun addition to the fair. And pop. Yoder says you can’t skip the amount of pop consumed over the week.
When it comes to the logistics of the operation of a three-sided booth located near the main clock tower intersection, everything starts with the seven window people. They take the orders, figure out the total cost and fill out a grill sheet, as the volunteers call it. They take the money to the cashier and file the grill sheet with one of the two wrappers.
Often running two wrappers and two cooks, the wrapper instructs the cook on what they need, whether three cheeseburgers, two with onions or whatever the specific order may be. While the cook preps the meat, cheese and onions, the wrappers handle the lettuce, tomatoes and sauce for the buns. In the meantime the window staffer remains responsible for grabbing fries from the dedicated fryer and filling any drink orders.
On top of the workers in the booth, two more people in the back keep everything stocked, whether the tomatoes sliced or the chili heated. “If you get someone lazy back there you can get a real slow down,” Yoder says. But she keeps going back to the importance of the wrappers keeping the orders moving.
“The wrapping isn’t a decoration,” she says. A wrapper’s work helps fund Lynden Schools, with or without grilled onions.