The central Shenandoah Valley landscape appears parched for lack of rain this month, but at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds a flood of volunteers, donors and buyers joined together to help set what will likely be a new fund-raising record at the 51st annual Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale, Sept. 29-30. Nearly 1,000 volunteers again offered their time and talents.
Preliminary figures indicate this year’s sale raised about $360,000 for the worldwide relief, service and peacebuilding program of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Last year’s effort raised $338,430; the highest amount ever raised was $372,901 in 2014.
“Once all expenses reports are finalized, we expect to break that record sales total, said Dave Rush of Harrisonburg, relief sale chair. “We generally see an additional $20-40 thousand coming in after the sale until we arrive at our final total.”
Activities began Friday evening with a barbecued beef dinner, music by Willow Run, a local music group, and the start of the live and silent auction and ran through Saturday afternoon.
The annual auction of handmade quilts, wall hangings, knotted comforters and afghans, artwork and wooden handcrafted items accounted for $131,894 of the total funds raised.
Total funds raised included $26,083 from the annual “My Coins Count” project, up from $22,183 last year. Area congregations, schools, homes and businesses collect coins and currency in large water jugs for weeks, then bring their containers to the sale for sorting and tabulating done by employees of Park View Federal Credit Union. This year’s funds will go toward meeting children’s’ basic needs in Albania, Jamaica, Southeast Asia and Uganda through projects of Virginia Mennonite Missions.
Ridgeway Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg again topped the “My Coins Count” list of 31 participating congregations with $2,832 followed by Park View Mennonite Church with $2,553 and Weavers Mennonite Church west of Harrisonburg with $1,704. The final coin-collection total is likely to be higher with some matching funds and other gifts yet to come in, according to Rush.
This year, the Relief Sale board promoted a new opportunity to add to the total relief sale giving through a “S.O.S. (Sharing Our Surplus)” campaign spearheaded by local pastor, counselor and community advocate Harvey Yoder. A special table was set up during the entire sale for persons to donate money to MCC’s work with Syrian refugees. Yoder reported that $35,575 came in for this initiative.
Yoder encouraged relief sale attendees to think of giving in the spirit of Jubilee – “above regular tithes and offerings, and not result in decreased giving elsewhere.” He went on to offer a challenge for persons to “willingly become poorer for Christ’s sake.”
A 105” x 95” chain heart quilt in tan, brown and maroon, pieced anonymously and quilted by Nancy Heatwole of Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, took the top bid of $3,500. A 9’ x 12’ Royal Taj/Keshan black Oriental rug by Obee Tee of Third Hill Farm, Quicksburg, went for $5,000.
A slant top walnut desk with dovetail, mortise and tenon construction handcrafted by Norman Lambert of North Carolina was auctioned for $4,000. A 1951 Farmall Super C International Harvester tractor, donated anonymously, went for $1,800.
The homemade glazed donut operation got under way in the early morning hours on Saturday, with 18,000 of the confectionary delights sold. John and Jennifer Murch and their four children of Linville headed up the donut-making for a second year.
Other traditional food items included 150 gallons of Brunswick stew made on the premises by members of Springdale Mennonite church in Augusta County, homemade apple butter and fresh cider, 2,000 barbecued chicken halves, chili, and Indian dishes. A Mississippi catfish dinner, available for the first time, quickly sold out.
“An especially big thank you goes out to the many volunteers who gave of their time and energy to make this remarkable event possible,” Rush said. “Also thanks to the many donors and buyers.
“It brings me much joy to see us all work together to raise money to help others around the world whom Jesus calls us to serve,” he added. “May we continue to do this not just on this [relief sale] weekend, but each and every day.”
Next year’s sale will return to its regular first weekend in October, 2018.
-Written by Jim Bishop