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‘Paczki mania’ grips Antioch parish

ANITOCH Monday Feb 11 2013 Elizabeth Petersreaches for lemPaczki as Karen Mahoney completes an order St. Raphael The Archangel Catholic

ANITOCH Monday Feb 11 2013 Elizabeth Peterson, reaches for a lemon Paczki as Karen Mahoney completes an order at St. Raphael The Archangel Catholic Church. | Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 13, 2013 6:08AM

ANTIOCH — Mark Stone walked in from the mid-February cold with what is normally an early-spring ritual on the agenda: Buying a dozen paczkis for his family.

“I need six chocolate custard, three regular custard and three raspberry,” said Stone, waiting in the modest line that had formed in the first hour of paczki sales Monday afternoon at St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church. Asked how long they would last after getting them home, he said: “They’ll be gone by tomorrow.”

The tomorrow, in this case, would be Fat Tuesday, the eve of Ash Wednesday, which ushers in the 40-day Lenten season of penitence and fasting for Catholics. Paczkis ­— Polish pastries filled with sweets that might be off-limits during Lent — are a traditional means of celebration for the faithful at St. Raphael and elsewhere.

“It’s paczki mania!” said Gidget Leable of Wadsworth as parishioners and members of the general public arrived to pick up both pre-ordered boxes and mix-and-match orders. She and a half-dozen other volunteers had the process down to a science, as might be expected at an event that has become something of a cottage industry at the Route 173 parish.

“This is our fifth or sixth year, and we started with 600 and it went up a little bit every year until it was about a thousand,” said Paczki Day organizer Elizabeth Peterson, “and then this year we had 1,600. We jumped incredibly this year.”

Peterson said her guess for the great leap forward would be that “the word is out there. We’re like the biggest (paczki seller) in Lake County or one of the biggest. We have a lot of people come from Kenosha or places outside the parish who heard about it from friends or saw it somewhere.”

There is also the guilty-pleasure appeal of a pastry the size of an oven mitt infused with fruit or custard.

For the record, the most popular pre-ordered paczki (pronounced “poonch-key”) at St. Raphael’s for 2013 were the three custard-based varieties — glazed, powdered sugar and chocolate-covered — which combined for 600 total.

Next up was raspberry with 550, followed by lemon with 250 and blueberry with 200.

The two versions considered to be the most traditional, apricot and prune, came in with 160 orders and 56, respectively. The menu also included about 50 apple-filled pastries.

The goods arrived this week from Central Continental Bakery in Mount Prospect, and the sales in the parish hall on Route 173 a half-mile east of Route 45 were going for $13 a dozen, $7 a half-dozen and $1.50 each.

The proceeds benefit the parish’s ongoing campaign to rebuild the dismantled St. John of God Catholic Church from Chicago on a site off Route 45 south of Grass Lake Road.

After a two-hour sale on Monday, volunteers were planning to open the doors on Fat Tuesday at 6 a.m. for a final three hours of distribution. Though Peterson acknowledged she would have to get up at 5 a.m. to flip on the lights, she described the project as a labor of love.

“We make anywhere from $600 to $1,000, probably around $600, so it’s not a huge fund-raiser,” she said, “but it’s a fun one.”

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