Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale Unmasks Generous Spirit
by Jim Bishop
Freelance Writer based in Harrisonburg, Va.
MT. CRAWFORD, VA – Early summer pleasant temperatures and rainfall in the Shenandoah Valley, then nearly two months of dry conditions, evolved into warm fall weather just in time for the 55th annual Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale held Oct. 1-2 at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds.
This year’s sale raised a preliminary figure of $355,000 for the worldwide relief, service and peacebuilding program of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Despite certain restrictions in fund-raising brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s effort raised $333,931; final actual proceeds in 2019 totaled $381,033.
“When all expense reports are finalized and additional funds come in, our total receipts will likely exceed the funds raised this weekend,” said Dave Rush, relief sale chair of Harrisonburg. “We had a lot of activity and received positive comments about the online bidding and video available this year.”
Rush noted that there were winning bidders on line from 9 different states, adding: “One man won top bid on a wood crafted item while in a plane flying from Maine to the West Coast.”
Activities began Friday evening with a barbecued pork barbeque dinner, special music by several local groups and the start of the live and silent auction that resumed Saturday morning and ran through early afternoon.
The annual auction of handmade quilts, wall hangings, knotted comforters, artwork and wooden handcrafted items accounted for $138,988 of the total funds raised. The highest auction bid, on an oak side table with drawer and door made and donated by Norman and Grace Lambert of North Carolina, brought in $5,700. There were 37 items that brought $1,000 or more; 23 of these were quilts.
Total funds raised from the annual “My Coins Count” project was $16,052, with more funds expected to come in from area congregations, businesses and other groups. The funds will be evenly divided between Mennonite Central Committee and Virginia Mennonite Missions (VMMissions) to purchase classroom supplies for church-related schools in rural Zambia (MCC) and family discipleship ministries in Latino congregations and scripture-based music ministries through Kids’ Klub programs in the U.S. (VMMissions).
This year’s “special projects” offering raised $3,300 to be divided equally between two area organizations – a WARM cold weather shelter in Waynesboro, Va., for homeless persons or at imminent risk of homelessness and to assist “People Helping People,” an ecumenical financial aid program supported by local faith communities.
A return of the popular donuts caused relief sale patrons of all ages to have glazed looks on their faces as Strite’s Donuts of Harrisonburg brought their donut-making operation on site and sold some 6,000 of their confectionary delights.
Persons also formed long lines to purchase quantities of Brunswick stew, with 165 gallons made in vats on the fairground premises headed by Ronnie Grove of Sherando and members of Springdale Mennonite Church in Augusta County.
Other homemade food items around the fairgrounds included numerous baked goods, 1,200 barbecued chicken halves, cider, fresh produce, kettle-cooked potato chips and international fare including Indian food and lamb.
A Spirit of Unity
Dave Rush, in his 12th year as relief sale chair, is enthused over this year’s fund-raising effort.
“It was good to be back (at the relief sale),” Rush said. “We had beautiful weather and fun together. A huge ‘thank you’ to the many volunteers who gave their time and energy to make this event possible. Also, many thanks to the donors and buyers, and for a cooperative spirit expressed by those who wore masks indoors,” he added. “Every year it brings me much joy to see us all work together to raise money for MCC in the name of Christ. I was impressed with the way so many people come together in a spirit of unity, both the volunteer effort and the generous giving to the work of MCC,” Rush said. “Through this event, we work together to help others around the world whom Jesus calls us to serve.”
MCC, based in Akron, Pa., is a worldwide ministry of Anabaptist churches that share God’s love and compassion with people at home and around the world to ease oppression, poverty and conflict. They lead natural disaster relief efforts, community development and peace work in more than 50 countries. The first Virginia Relief Sale took place Sept. 30, 1967 on the farm of Paul Wenger in Augusta County. The event moved to Augusta Expoland in 1974 and has been held at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds the first weekend in October since 1999.