Community comes together to make Christmas joyous for every child
The prairie community of Leach, Okla., in the southwest corner of Delaware County, has a long-standing tradition.
This November marked the 99th annual pie supper fundraiser. Since 1923, the Leach School District has partnered with farmers, ranchers and rural citizens to bring Christmas to the community’s school children. Every fall, they raise money to buy gifts given to the students during their Christmas program.
A lot of things have changed since the 1920s. In those early years, the pie supper might provide a bag of fruit and hard candy. Last year, more than $40,000, an all-new record, was raised and went toward purchasing gifts for the school’s 150 students. In a county with 19 percent of the population at or below the poverty level, it may be the only gifts some students receive.
“It’s amazing for our little community to raise that much money for Christmas gifts; it’s not that many people, and they just raise all that money,” said Janice Pilcher, a 50-year veteran teacher.
Along with homemade pies, bidders can bid on a variety of desserts from neighboring kitchens, as well as crafts. Businesses and individuals from the surrounding area donate services, tools and household items. Some desserts are legendary and, from the right kitchen can go upwards of $150 to $200.
At the heart of it all, auctioneers donate their time and skills. It only takes two bidders to make an auction, and the auctioneers know how to work the crowd. One of those auctioneers is Clint Cunningham.
“I don’t mind donating my time for this auction as it is a great cause,” he said. “Because of the people in this area, these kids will have a wonderful Christmas. I’m just proud I can help out.”
Teachers and staff donate their time each year to work the pie supper and auction. Classes donate themed baskets that go into a silent auction. People casually walk by the tables and quickly write their bids down on clipboards, out bidding their neighbors. The gym’s concession stand is busy selling homemade chili, chicken and dumplings and desserts, but the coffee is always free.
Weeks leading up to the pie supper, students sell tickets that give area residents a chance to win prizes. The students with the most ticket sales represent the school as pie supper royalty.
“It gets pretty competitive,” said Shandi Teague, a third-year teacher and mother of this year’s princess.
There have been setbacks over the years, but the community and school have managed to overcome adversity. During COVID, they moved the pie supper outdoors, bringing Christmas joy.
However, in 2001 the school was targeted by criminals. A previous superintendent decided to store the presents that year in a storage facility in a neighboring town. On the day of the Christmas program, school employees went to bring the wrapped gifts to the school only to discover the gifts had been stolen, leaving only a few bikes.
“It felt like we got hit in the gut,” recalled Bonnie Wells, a former superintendent’s secretary. “Channel 2 came in and did a story, and by the end of the day, we probably had more money to buy gifts than we originally started with. A man who had never heard of us drove down from Bartlesville and gave us a $5,000 check.”
The community, along with the kindness of strangers, came together that day to ensure the students got their Christmas gifts. An area Walmart helped fill the gift list, and a rancher with a stock trailer hauled the gifts to the school. Teachers and employees sorted and wrapped gifts right up to the time of the Christmas program.
“We grew up here, and we were part of the kids,” she said. “That’s what hurt, I think, everyone cried. But we got it all; I can remember the shirt I was wearing. We went into the gym, and everyone was dressed up, and we looked like we had been run over.”
Facing high inflation, the community came together again this year, and the Leach students will each have $200 for a Christmas wish list. Parents will help students make a list, and the teachers and staff will fulfill those lists and wrap the presents.
They will be placed under a Christmas tree and distributed during the annual Christmas program, which is open to the community.
“The Christmas program is really a way for the students to say thank you to the community,” Bonnie said.
Next year, on the first weekend of November, will be the 100th annual Leach Pie Supper. Currently, ladies are collecting scraps of fabric for a quilt to be auctioned. Fabric from old jerseys, uniforms, farmers’ shirts, housewives’ aprons worn thin by labor and effort have kept this tradition alive for nearly 100 years.