March 27, 2019
You might not know Margaret DeMers by name, but you’ve probably tasted her fan-favorite frybread recipe. She’s been a vital part of the Sanford Health Foundation’s annual Taco Fest since it began more than two decades ago.
“I started volunteering at Taco Fest right at the beginning,” DeMers said. “I was one of the original people.”
Every year, the event raises funds to support Sanford Bemidji, where DeMers worked as a medical social worker for nearly three decades. She retired seven years ago, but remains a proud member of the “Blue Crew,” a team of volunteers who make the event possible.
“I help with the bread making,” DeMers said. “I want everyone to enjoy it. So, I work really hard at that.”
In the early days of the event, volunteers fried frozen dough in small cookers that could hold only four to five pieces of bread at a time.
Today, DeMers leads a team of volunteers who make the dough by hand on-site before cooking it in large frying troughs. The iconic frybread flavor locals have come to love is thanks to DeMers’ own recipe.
“I knew I had this recipe,” DeMers said. “It wasn’t that bad so then we just kept on doing it.”
The journey from frozen to famous frybread was not without its ups and downs. One year, the volunteers made the dough the night before and separated it into portioned balls. In the morning, they found that their hours of preparation were pointless because the balls had fused back together despite the wax paper separating them.
“We laughed over it, but we were there for five to six hours making those 1,200 balls of dough, and we never did it again,” DeMers said.
Another year, the team ran out of dough during the event. They hurried over to the local grocery store to buy Hungry Man Biscuits as a substitute. According to DeMers, it didn’t turn out too bad.
The bread was not the only thing that didn’t always rise to the occasion. The unpredictable Minnesota weather always kept the team on their toes. One year in particular, DeMers remembers everyone standing ankle-deep in water as it down poured outside the tent. Not willing to let Mother Nature ruin the event, they called up local businesses and offered to deliver the tacos.
“It’s really a well-organized, well-oiled machine now compared to what it was, but it’s always fun,” DeMers said. “My favorite part here now is seeing everybody.
“I think that there are a lot of good people here and a lot of good people make it a success. And, they also make it fun and worthwhile, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
DeMers admits that making quality bread isn’t easy, but the dedicated Blue Crew members who keep coming back to teach new generations of volunteers make it possible.
“You don’t need to know in advance what to do, because we’ll teach you,” DeMers said. “You just have to be willing to try, and we’ll show you how to do it. I think you will surprise yourself.”
For DeMers, the Taco Fest is so much more than the good food that she helps make.
“It gives the community a chance to get together,” DeMers said. “It’s just a chance to sit outside and eat here and commune with nature and visit with friends and participate in a community event and give to a worthy cause.”