Walk, don’t run, to your nearest Relief Sale

August 18, 2020
by Jim Bishop
Freelance writer based in Harrisonburg, Va.

Harvey Yoder is walking at least a brisk mile every day for a hundred days with one purpose – to promote a “Hundreds for Hundreds” campaign to raise awareness of and funds for the 54th annual Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale, scheduled for Oct. 2-3 at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds.

“I’m walkin’, yes, indeed,
I’m talkin’, ‘bout you and me . . .”

-Fats Domino

Harvey Yoder of Harrisonburg probably doesn’t have this 1957 Fats Domino song ricocheting down the cobwebbed corridors of his mind while out on his daily constitutional, but there’s a determined look on his face to keep time with his pace.

The 81-year-old pastor, family counselor and community activist is walking at least a brisk mile every day for a hundred days with one purpose – to promote a “Hundreds for Hundreds” campaign to raise awareness of and funds for the 54th annual Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale, scheduled for Oct. 2-3 at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds. All funds raised go to support the worldwide relief, service and peacebuilding programs of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

But more immediately, he and his planning group have set up a “Sharing Our Surplus” (SOS) walk on Sunday, Aug. 23, starting at 6 p.m. at Community Mennonite Church, 70 S. High St. in Harrisonburg. The 2.3-mile walk will be self-guided (maps will be provided) with individuals and family units departing at staggered times. Walkers are encouraged to wear masks and practice social distancing during the event.

MCC representatives will be present with information on refugee and other needs and to collect contributions by cash, check or credit card.

“This effort is one way to support MCC’s response to the worldwide refugee crisis,” Harvey said. “COVID-19 has only added to this dire situation, and monetary gifts are needed more than ever. It’s also a way to give an early promotional push to the relief sale that has its own set of issues to contend with, due to restrictions placed on major public events.”

If unable to participate in person on Aug. 23, fret not. Persons can walk their own route at a time that best suits them, then send a donation (make checks payable to Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale) and mail to SOS, 601 Parkwood Dr., Harrisonburg VA 22801.

Registration for the walk is not required but would be helpful to planners and may be done through a “Refugee SOS” Facebook page. Gifts can also be sent effortlessly and securely online.

Whatever course one chooses, Harvey is hopeful that many people will “come together to share our surplus with the world’s most vulnerable population.”

Like Yoder, relief sale chair Dave Rush of Harrisonburg is a man with a plan to loosen the pandemic’s potential grip on the relief sale. He believes that, with a major, generous response from the public and yeoman efforts from a host of volunteers, this year’s relief sale has the potential to surpass last year’s record $400,000 raised.

“It’s disheartening to have to make major readjustments this year, when MCC is in the middle of their 100th anniversary year of helping people ‘in the name of Christ,’” Dave said. “We were planning some special reflections to celebrate all the relief, development, education and peace efforts over the years. Instead, MCC has been forced to cut back certain programs while the pandemic rages on. For this reason, we are especially hopeful that we can come together and raise significant funds despite the obstacles.”

A decision has been made to conduct this year’s main auction online; persons can bid from the comfort of their home through the sale’s website (vareliefsale.com). All items will be on display Thursday, Oct. 1 through the end of the auction Saturday, Oct. 3.

Planners are hopeful that the many unique food options, always a sale highlight, will be offered again this fall, but most will be sold on a drive-through basis at the fairgrounds, including barbecued chicken, fresh Mississippi catfish fry, Brunswick stew, a wide assortment of baked goods, kettle-cooked potato chips and more.

Another activity that will be tricky to pull off this year is the “My Coins Count” fund-raiser, when area churches and businesses collect coins and currency in large water jugs, usually during Sunday morning worship services. The funds raised are divided between MCC and local causes through Virginia Mennonite Missions. Last year’s drive raised $24,804.

Congregations will not be deterred by COVID-19. For example, from 10 a.m. to noon every Thursday until the sale, children and parents of Community Mennonite Church are invited to bring their money for “My Coins Count” to the church building. A CMC pastor, wearing a mask, will be outside with a plastic jug to receive their “noisy offering.” Other congregations are devising their own creative ways to participate in this event.

“No doubt about it, this will be a relief sale unlike any other,” Dave said. “We will still embrace the basic purpose of the sale – to raise sorely-needed money for MCC to help ‘the least of these,’ as Matthew 25 notes.”

The relief sale is certainly one way to walk a mile in the shoes of the less fortunate, and some don’t even have shoes to begin with. Let’s get ready to do some serious walking.

Reprinted from BISHOP’S MANTLE in the 8/15/20 Daily News-Record.