Against a backdrop of brisk, sunny fall weather, an enthusiastic crowd of nearly 10,000 flocked to the 43rd annual Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale held Friday evening and Saturday, Oct. 2-3 at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds.
Preliminary receipts totaled $283,246 for the worldwide relief and service program of Mennonite Central Committee. Last year’s sales total was $307,683.
The funds included approximately $21,823 for the “Penny Power” project, initiated in 2001, in which area congregations, school, homes and businesses collect coins and currency in large water jugs for weeks or months and bring their containers to the sale for sorting and tabulating. Last year’s effort raised $30,354.
“Penny Power” funds will be divided equally between MCC and Virginia Mennonite Missions. MCC’s portion will be used to benefit medical supplies in the Democratic Republic of Congo. VMM will use its portion to support deaf ministries in various places in the world.
In addition to the “Penny Power” funds, the Virginia relief sale effort sought in other ways to respond to local needs.
Cash contributions of approximately $10,000 will be divided between two local organizations, People Helping People and Staunton/Augusta Church Relief Association, and MCC’s urgent response to the earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam. These programs dispense emergency relief in the form of food and financial assistance for medication, utilities, rent or other basic needs.
More than 300 grocery bags filled with donated non-perishable food goods will be divided between the local Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and MCC’s Grocery Bag project, with much of the latter going to Richmond and Washington, D.C.
An auction of handmade quilts, wall hangings, knotted comforters and afghans, artwork and wooden handcrafted items accounted for $122,282 of the total funds raised. Nineteen items went for $1,000 or more; 12 were quilts.
The highest bid item was a 1973 MGB convertible in mint condition donated by Dr. Elmer and Marianne Kennel of Harrisonburg that went for $7,000.
A 109″ x 110″ pineapple off white handcrafted quilt donated by Catherine Mumaw and Clair Basinger of Harrisonburg took the highest bid of $2,200.
A grandmother’s clock made by Stanley Cline of Harrisonburg garnered $4000, an aluminum toy made between 1932 and 1934 by the Sharon Manufacturing Company and donated by Wilbur Layman went for $2,100, and a marble roller designed and crafted by Dan Bowman of Harrisonburg, who is blind, went for $1,000.
Again this year the venue included such popular food items as homemade glazed donuts (that were sold out by noon), 190 gallons of Brunswick stew made on the premises by members of Springdale and Mount View Mennonite churches in Augusta County, 3,000 barbecued chicken halves, homemade potato chips and apple butter and cider.
The sale opened with a Friday afternoon two-hour radio broadcast called “Down Home Shenandoah” on radio station WSIG, 96.9 FM. Using music and storytelling, the program focused on the music of musicologist Joseph Funk of Singers Glen and selections from his “Harmonia Sacra” songbook. The broadcast ended with the audience joining in singing “606” (now #118 in the Brethren-Mennonite hymnal), “Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow.”
“Even thou the initial sales figure is down a bit over last year, there was no lack of generosity among the people in attendance,” said Phil Helmuth, relief sale chair. “This event is truly a community-building experience.”
Arli Klassen, MCC executive director, attended the sale and was struck by the “diversity of generations” coming together from the different area Mennonite groups to work together and “being a witness for Christ through acts of compassion, mercy and justice.”
The 45 relief sales held across North America last year raised $5.3 million for MCC, Klassen noted.