At the very onset, the small congregation faced many financial hardships. The church was deeply in debt with scarce money available during the era of the Great Depression to support a pastor, pay bills, and bear the cost of a staggering mortgage. It would seem to be overbearing. Both Pastors Romeis and Voorhees, in their own way, listened, prayed, and managed to tend to the needs of their flock.
One example of creative financial ingenuity to meet their needs was the institution of Pence Cans. The pence system was adopted by the church council on February 4, 1937 for the promotion of the Property Improvement Fund. The Pence Can or Penny-A-Meal system was being used successfully in many churches at that time. After some discussion council members decided to shop around and see if the cans could be obtained free or at a nominal cost at a gasoline dealers’ station. At that time several of the councilmen reached down into their pockets and contributed 75 cents towards the purchase of pence cans.
Written in the April 1937 article of The Lutheran Advocate: “A partial distribution of our new Pence cans was made after the Easter Morning service. It was impossible to contact all those who may want to use them. You can get your can anytime that you are at the church building, or cans will be delivered upon request. These are to assist in our Building and Remodeling Program. Take one home if you are willing (one to a family). Place it always on the table where you eat. One (or take turns) says grace by using one of the printed prayers on the can. Then a penny a piece is dropped by each member, or at least by the income producing members (includes wife). The plan will not work unless we all make up our minds to use it diligently and regularly. Return the cans the last Sunday in April, at the Church service. Mr. John Littner is Pence Chairman and with a Committee of Councilmen will keep a full and accurate account of the Funds. If we will all use the cans faithfully, we will feel mighty good about them at the end of the first month.” Fifty-one cans were given out.
The following month: “We appreciate your Pence Can offerings. A strict account will be kept of all moneys turned in. All of it goes for the remodeling project. If you are willing, always take a new can on the day that you turn in the used can, and please give us your name, so that we may have a record. Please give us your name, even if you do not desire to put your name on your can. Otherwise we do not know where the cans are. Only about one-third of the cans were turned in on the first collection of April 25, with totals of about $25. You can, of course place your can on the offering plate or have it placed on the altar otherwise, but it would be better if all of us do the best we can to make the general collection on the last Sunday of each month.” Money collected from Pence Cans continued up to 1940, but after the first year, receipts had waned considerably.
Margaret Sneesby said “The cans were like today’s pop cans. You just put your spare change, pennies, into it. In about every six months they called them back in. I don’t suppose they got an awful lot of money. It was a way of giving. If you earned a little extra money, you put some into the can. Those were insignificant ways of doing things.”
In an interview with Margaret Sneesby on February 25, 2016, she shared her memories of the Penny Suppers held in the early years at St. Paul’s.
“[Penny suppers were] open to the public which was advertised in the newspaper. It was opened to the whole community and women hosted them. Everyone under the sun came to penny suppers. You paid a penny per helping. Say you wanted meat, potato, etc. So you paid a penny per helping. Of course, all the food was donated. The suppers went over big. They depended on the women’s organization to keep the church going financially. The men weren’t too active. It brought the community together. It drew together the members of the church; you got to know them better. A closer knit family in those days, it was hard times, but good times.”
The first penny supper at St. Paul’s was held on December 10, 1935. For the Ladies Aid effort, $22.26 was received from the supper and $1.07 from a free will offering at the door. The sale of popcorn and candy came to $1.98. A total of $25.31 was received. Numerous penny suppers were held throughout the coming years. All proceeds went to the support of the Building Fund. In the 1930s residents in the Waukegan area knew of St. Paul’s “Penny Suppers” and many came every week to share a cheap, hearty meal.