Pax Christi selling woodworks to provide school supplies

Since Catholic peace and social justice nonprofit Pax Christi Little Rock was resurrected in 2017, it’s been on a mission to serve. So its latest fundraiser is fitting, selling handmade wooden serving trays. 

All proceeds will go directly toward backpacks filled with school supplies for students in need. And they are all handmade by Christ the King Little Rock parishioner Raymond Bertasi in his PAX Tiny Workshop. 

“That’s kind of the theme for this particular project — serving trays to serve people, serve others. And that’s what we’re doing in the workshop is making these boards to serve other people,” he told Arkansas Catholic March 17 while sitting in his workshop, surrounded by wood piles and handcrafted serving trays with handles, trivets, coasters and cutting boards, ready to be sold. 

“I’ve always had a soft heart for people that need a hand, that need a hand up, and it starts, I think with the children. I just can’t imagine going to school and struggling, not even having enough supplies. That’s pretty basic.”

Bertasi, a woodworker for about seven years since his retirement, established PAX Tiny Workshop last year to dedicate woodworking projects to Pax Christi’s backpack fundraiser. In 2021 he made bluebird houses. 

Pax Christi Little Rock vice president and director of communications Dr. Sherry Simon said they began donating backpacks in 2017 to the former Rockefeller Elementary in Little Rock. Since then, they’ve added schools, aiding 1,500 students across two Catholic schools, St. Theresa School in Little Rock and North Little Rock Catholic Academy, and three public schools, Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Little Rock, Carroll Smith Elementary in Osceola and Broadmoor Elementary School in Pine Bluff. 

Since 2017, they’ve spent $47,102.73 to benefit 4,320 students. Low-income schools provide lists for supplies, such as  pencils, crayons, loose-leaf paper, notebooks. The items are bought in bulk, and Pax Christi members pack and distribute the backpacks. 

But Bertasi’s contributions have been a game-changer, raising $6,058 in 2021, exceeding his goal. 

“He’s so faithful,” Simon said. “Raymond is a true friend too; we didn’t go to him. He said, ‘This is what I want to do for you guys this year.’ … I was blown away by that. He worked so hard last year I thought we burnt him out, but no.”

Bertasi creates about 10 serving trays at a time, inspired by designs from his wife Leslie. It takes about a week, or 50 hours, to make 10 trays. He uses cherry, walnut and hard maple, mixed with exotic woods like bloodwood, purpleheart, lacewood and yellowheart he can find at local stores. Pax Christi reimburses him for the materials. 

The pieces are selling anywhere from $30 to $250 and are customizable. For a buyer who wants to learn the design and make their own cutting board or serving tray with Bertasi, the PAX Tiny Workshop Experience will cost $500. Anyone is welcome to visit his workshop and peruse the styles, he said. His fundraising goal is $5,000. 

Bertasi is half way toward his goal of making 60 pieces. He’s hoping most will be ordered by the time Pax Christi has to buy school supplies, typically in June. 

“I’ve always had a soft heart for people that need a hand, that need a hand up, and it starts, I think with the children. I just can’t imagine going to school and struggling, not even having enough supplies. That’s pretty basic,” he said.

To order one of Bertasi’s creations, email paxtinyworkshop@gmail.com or leave a voicemail at (501) 580-3849.

Aprille Hanson Spivey

Aprille Hanson Spivey has contributed to Arkansas Catholic as a freelancer and associate editor since 2010. She leads the Beacon of Hope grief ministry at St. Joseph Church in Conway.

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