The annual PEO Christmas bazaar takes place this Saturday at the Prineville Community Church

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - This large group shot was taken at the 2012 PEO Christmas bazaar.

There won’t be an unshaven thug peering from behind a speakeasy-style door slot, nor will you have to remember the password of the day.

Nevertheless, if you want to attend the PEO’s annual Christmas bazaar this Saturday — its time remains a secret — you’d better have an invitation.

PEO seems to be an organization hiding in the shadows. The public knows it exists, but most probably don’t even know what the acronym stands for — Philanthropic Education Organization.

“It’s been kind of a secret organization for a long time,” said local PEO member Jan Uffelman, “and according to our guidelines, we weren’t allowed to discuss PEO business with people who weren’t PEOs. That was just the way the organization was founded. That is changing, and people are talking about PEO and what our focus is. People are becoming more aware of it.”

PEO International was founded in 1869 by seven students at Iowa Wesleyan College, she said. Today there are more than a quarter-million members in the United States and Canada helping women achieve their educational goals. More the 90,000 women have benefited from PEO’s educational grants, scholarships, and loans, according to PEO’s website.

PEO also owns and operates Cottey College, a fully accredited, private liberal arts and sciences college for women, located in Nevada, Mo.

Along with Chapter AD in Prineville, there are five chapters in Bend, and a couple in Redmond, according to Uffelman. The Prineville chapter is growing, she said, and a new one might be established in Powell Butte.

“Our chapter in Prineville has been quite large, so we’re at a point now where we’re considering another chapter spawning from that chapter, so people living in Powell Butte wouldn’t have to drive into town for meetings. Other chapters around Central Oregon have been in existence for quite a while and (also) are growing.”

The December bazaar and a summer rummage sale are Chapter AD’s projects to fund scholarships, said Uffelman.

“Last year the local chapter awarded $2,500 in scholarships to high school senior women and over $6,000 in awards and grants to women continuing their education.”

Ufflelman said that in the past, the PEO has held its bazaar in a private home and kept it invitation-only so they could serve lunch and have home-baked goods and not have to comply with getting the health inspector.

Now the bazaar is held at the Prineville Community Church, but since that same, delicious, home-made food is still served, an invitation is still required.

The good news is that an invitation is easy to come by.

“If people are interested, they can talk with somebody who’s in PEO, or call. We’re not trying to exclude people, but we can’t advertise it as open to the public.”

And when pressed, Uffelman admitted that if people show up at the bazaar without an invitation, they can receive one on the spot.

While the arrangement for the bazaar may seem a bit unusual, it doesn’t deter the attendees.

“It’s swamped,” Uffelman said. “People get there, and it’s kind of chaotic for the first couple of hours. But it’s great fun.”

Along with the soup and bread lunch — available for a small charge — all the bazaar items are homemade, according to Uffelman. This includes craft items like ornaments, home décor, purses, and wall hangings, as well as baked goods and candy.

The bazaar is known for its Yule logs and cookies.

“We specialize in Yule logs, which is a piece of split firewood decorated with fresh green, and bows. People often use them for decorating a front porch at Christmas time, or putting them in a fireplace, and then burning after the holidays. We usually sell out of those, right away.”

The cookie buffet is especially popular, she said. Each member makes five dozen cookies which are then set up for sale on long tables.

“People can pay $6 and get a container that we give them, and they can put two dozen cookies in there. Some are definitely decorated Christmas cookies, and others are just cookies that we all like, that are fun to serve.”

Uffelman stressed that no one gets paid for the items they make.

“One hundred percent of the money we make that day goes to scholarships. We pay a small fee to the church for cleaning, and that’s it.”

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