The friends of the St. Joseph Bay Preserves have a tradition for their annual meetings.
The first half is business as usual – with everyone gathering around the Buffer Preserve visitor center’s long table to go over membership numbers, fundraisers, active projects and other organizational necessities.
Then, the group breaks for a feast of chili and cornbread, supplied by members as part of a sort of potluck, and they spend the next few hours catching up with old friends.
They’ve been meeting this way for decades, said Sandra Chafin, the buffer preserve’s administrative assistant, and she looks forward to it every January.
“It’s always chili,” she said, “chili and all the fixings.”
“Everybody that comes, they just bring their favorite chili recipes, and we always have the best assortment, and we don’t know until we get here who’s bringing what.”
The in-person crowd looked a little smaller this year, according to many of the organization’s returning members, who expressed that concerns over COVID-19 had kept in-person attendance down recently.
However, Chafin said that membership numbers are still going strong, with many members of the community and otherwise interested individuals participating in group activities online.
“Covid has changed so much,” Chafin said. “But our members, a lot of them, they go online, print out the application, mail it in with a check.”
“Like minds doing great things can get fabulous things done, and we have a right active Friends group.”
The Friends of St. Joseph Bay Preserves is hoping to draw a large in-person crowd for their outdoor Bay Day event on February 5, which Chafin said is the organization’s largest fundraiser of the year.
The event, which will feature tram tours of the preserve and a low country shrimp boil, will raise money for several of this year’s preserve projects – including prescribed burns, water hydrology restorations and the construction of a new trail.
Bay Day will begin at 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 5 and run until about 2:00 p.m., Chafin said. A rain date has been slated for Feb. 12 in case of inclement weather.