A day of family fun helps people in dire need



Joe Arbaugh (left) and other volunteers flip pancakes for the big sale breakfast. Photo by Jim Bishop

“The quilts are more art than a bedspread,” says Dave Rush, chair of the annual quilt auction which takes place each year at the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale (VMRS), coming up this year at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds September 29-30. The annual massive effort helps address so many needs around the world and here in the Valley.

This year will be the 51st annual opportunity, opening to the public with a BBQ beef dinner by donation with live music from local groups from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday the 29th. That night from 7 to 9 p.m., a live auction begins and a silent auction opens. The auctions are famous for their beautiful handmade quilts, comforters, wall hangings, art, furniture, unique woodwork, collectables and a variety of handmade items. Items auctioned can be viewed at vareliefsale.com.

The son of Micah Horst, youth pastor at Weaver’s Mennonite Church, packages and sells kettle corn. Photo by Jim Bishop

A plated breakfast and lunch will be available by donation Saturday, but many attendees enjoy sampling the food available at various booths starting at 7 a.m. Popular food items include homemade potato chips, pies, glazed donuts, Brunswick stew, apple butter, fresh cider, barbecued chicken halves, chili, whoopie pies, hand-dipped ice cream and Indian dishes. New this year will be a catfish dinner.

A 5K Race for Relief Run/Walk begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, then the live auction resumes at 9:30 with a children’s auction at 10 a.m. The marketplace will be selling fresh produce, canned goods, jams and jellies, QMT brand wind chimes, country décor items, pumpkins, plants, flowers and much more. Participants can also compete for prizes at the sporting clay skeet shoot. Campsites on the fairgrounds are available for a donation of at least $25.

Karen Gonzol holds her book “For the Least of These: 50 Years of the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale” in front of the quilt that appears on the book’s cover. The commemorative quilt was pieced by Charlotte Swope and Carolyn Bontrager; Charlotte Swope completed the quilting. Photo by Jim Bishop

In the past 50 years, the VMRS has raised almost $7 million to help people in about 60 countries in addition to the U.S. through Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). MCC strives to ease poverty, oppression and conflict, as well as to lead natural disaster relief efforts, community development and peace work. Last year, the sale was able to net over $275,000 for these efforts in just 24 hours. VMRS organizers also hope to raise $10,000 to support two local organizations: People Helping People and the Waynesboro Area Refuge Ministry (WARM). Attendees are invited to contribute paper towels, toilet paper, trash bags, cleaning supplies, full size shampoo, conditioner and body wash, and paper plates to the sale’s supply drive for the WARM shelter.

“We feel called by God to help people,” said Dave. “If you’re making over $38,000 a year, you’re in the top one percent of world inhabitants.”

Dave Rush was Lindale Mennonite Church’s representative in charge of ice cream and bread sales for several years before becoming the chair of VMRS in 2010. He also helped organize the first 5K at VMRS. He sees the sale as a great community-building event bringing people together to work for a common cause. In the wide spectrum of Mennonites from the very conservative old order to the quite liberal, over 1000 people from churches in Rockingham and Augusta counties volunteer to help with VMRS. “We feel called by God to help people,” said Dave. “If you’re making over $38,000 a year, you’re in the top one perecent of world inhabitants.” Dave spent three months in Guatemala for his cross-cultural experience while attending Eastern Mennonite University. Lindale Mennonite’s effort to rebuild an orphanage right after an earthquake in Haiti also influenced his desire to lead VMRS efforts.

Auctioneer Kent D. Weaver manages bids on an item donated to raise money to help ease poverty, oppression and conflict around the world. Photo by Jim Bishop

Over 10,000 people come each year, and many from Richmond and Northern Virginia make it an annual family event. It is a time to reconnect with old friends and continue a tradition they may remember from their childhood in Goshen, Indiana or in Pennsylvania if not here. To some, sampling the good food here is like “eating for Jesus!” someone once quoted. People of all faiths are welcome to attend, volunteer and enjoy the fun of raising money to help those in need. He says extra hands are appreciated to help set up on Thursday and Friday at the fairgrounds and take down and clean up Saturday afternoon after 3 p.m.

S.O.S. Campaign: Share our Surplus

Valley Living columnist Harvey Yoder dreamed with others of ways to perhaps double this fall’s Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale income by encouraging attendees to be prepared to give generous cash, check or credit card donations in addition to their participation in auction and food sales in light of the extraordinary refugee needs in the world today. The relief sale board has officially endorsed this initiative.
With some 10,000 relatively well-to-do people attending the sale, most of whom do not participate in the auction, a table will be set up for the sole purpose of accepting and receipting cash contributions from attendees—in addition to auction and other spending. The S.O.S. campaign offers these ideas:
– Give a tithe of what you have in your savings account.
– Match what you and your household spend annually on eating out.
– Save the equivalent of a month’s rent or mortgage payment to help provide refugee housing.

Kellie Kauffman leads children’s activities. Photo by Jim Bishop

To reserve seats and find out the schedule for the auction and details of what will be sold, go to vareliefsale.com. Women in area churches spend years working on preparing quilts, and many Valley woodworkers take great pride in planning and building special wood crafts to donate to the sale. A book about the history of the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale is available for $15 at Gift and Thrift, located in the Park View area at 731 Mt. Clinton Pike, Harrisonburg. Profits from Gift and Thrift also go to MCC. The 81-page softcover book by Karen Gonzol is entitled “For the Least of These: 50 Years of the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale.” It is full of old photographs and interesting tidbits about what was sold, who was involved, and how much money was raised.

Alex Wynn and Eli Stoll participate in last year’s annual 5K Race for Relief. Photo by Jim Bishop

Dave points to the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40, “Whatever you do for the least of these you did for me” as part of the idea driving the relief sale. Participants are encouraged to make a financial contribution in addition to making purchases at VMRS. People Helping People is a cooperative ministry of churches in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, Virginia, which helps people in an emergency crisis with resources and guidance. The purpose of WARM is to provide support, temporary shelter or housing, and community development for homeless adults and families in the Waynesboro and Augusta County areas of Virginia.

MCC provides food, relief kits and blankets in the days following a disaster. It works alongside local communities to seek long-term solutions to poverty, hunger and poor health. MCC workers and projects support people building peace and justice around the world. Children in area churches also enjoy collecting coins in large plastic containers each Sunday during the year, and presenting them at the relief sale. This past year, the coins collected raised over $25,000 for MCC and the Virginia Mennonite Missions.

To learn more about Mennonite Central Committee, visit their website at mcc.org.

LAUREE STROUD PURCELL serves as an editorial consultant for Living. She and her husband Steve have two daughters.

Making twelve thousand donuts


The author’s daughter, Caroline Murch, with a roomful of additional donutmakers at the 2016 Mennonite Relief Sale. She was excited to help and took her job seriously! Photo by Jennifer Murch

My husband and I agreed to take over the homemade donut stand at the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale. Here’s the inside story on how you make 12,000 donuts in one day.

After we agreed to manage the booth, for about ten months I messed around with recipes, ran numbers, had several meetings with the previous donut-makers, pored over the three-ring binder of detailed photos and instructions, made lists, and after much agonizing, placed the final order for ingredients.

A couple weeks in advance, we did a preliminary walk-through of the donut-making spot. It was not encouraging. Low ceilings, uneven concrete floors, a row of fryers, a few rickety tables. How in the world…???

And then I started not sleeping. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and think, “We need 140 pounds of mashed potatoes but we’re only making 35 recipes. That can’t be right!” and then I’d struggle with mental math for a very long and entirely unproductive time. In the morning, I’d be like, four pounds of mashed potatoes times 35 is 140, duh.

My husband took off work on Thursday and we all went to the fairgrounds to begin setting up. We scrubbed the place down, laid donated carpet remnants (to facilitate clean-up), rearranged the room, hauled in the donut-making equipment that was stored on the relief sale truck, and washed supplies.

That evening we dropped the younger two children at my parents’ house (where they would stay for the next two nights before transferring to my friend’s house for the third night).

Friday morning, my husband and I, plus the two older kids, headed back out for a full day of prep work. Supplies started to arrive. Gallons of milk, cases of butter, cartons of eggs, 50-pound sacks of confectioner’s sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla, and mace. Except instead of the “three boxes of mace” from the bulk food section of the store that I had ordered, they sent three buckets of the stuff. Then I discovered they had sent 700 pounds of all-purpose flour instead of bread flour. The relief sale organizers flew into top gear, searching local stores for flour. They cleaned out a couple stores before finally finding a bulk food store that had the remaining six hundred pounds of bread flour in stock. When it arrived, one bag weighed 5 pounds 9 ounces! I said we’d have to weigh and rebag all of it; weights needed to be exact.

I muttered to my husband, “I am so going to lose it.” One of the relief sale workers overheard me. Without saying a word, he took off his coat, stepped up to the table, and for the next hour and a half, he twisted shut the remeasured bags. He did more than that, though. His presence prevented me from having a full-blown meltdown.

That evening, we went to bed at 8:30. We managed to actually fall asleep. We arrived at the fairgrounds soon after 1:00 a.m, and for the next 12 hours, we made donuts. It was an absolute blast.

There were three shifts of volunteers, about 30 in each shift. Many of the volunteers were experienced and knew more about the process than we did, which was wonderful.

There were a few glitches (our dough uses less yeast so it took longer to rise, we ran out of boxes, we went over-time and had to call in extra volunteers), but they were totally manageable. It’s just donuts, I kept telling myself (and my fretful husband).

Exhaustion happened. Around 11:00 that morning, my face stopped working—I could hardly smile, and it was a struggle to form words. My entire body ached, even my toes. I was hungry. Dehydrated, too. I felt like I might start weeping at any moment. After clean up (with lots of help), we got home mid-afternoon, unpacked a few things, washed up dishes and a bunch of kettles, ate a donut, vacuumed. My son went to bed at four p.m., and my husband and I were in bed by five. I slept for thirteen hours.

The end.

PS. Except not really. We keep talking about the process, making changes, planning for next year.

PPS. We are not at all sick of donuts. Crazy, but true.

Keep up with Jennifer Murch, family tales, and delicious recipes on her blog, www.jennifermurch.com.



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