Hundreds attend the marquee event: the quilt auction. (photo: David Yoder)

The best — and perhaps quirkiest — aspects of being Mennonite were on display in northern Indiana last weekend. The Michiana MCC Relief Sale is an annual fundraising event for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a world-wide relief organization. The sale is part quilt auction, part junk auction, part garage sale, part bake sale, part county fair, part family reunion.

Although there are 30 MCC relief sales in the United States and 14 in Canada each year, Michiana (Indiana-Michigan area) hosts the largest, attracting between 20,000-25,000 people and raising upwards of $350,000 annually. It also happens to be in my old hometown of Goshen, Indiana.

Horse Carriage
Transportation around the fairgrounds for weary sale-goers. (photo: David Yoder)

So this past weekend I made my pilgrimage to the Elkhart County Fairgrounds with two non-Mennonite friends who have always wanted to experience this sale. They weren’t disappointed, and I was proud to call myself Mennonite.

New and Used Auction
An auction of new and used goods other than quilts. (photo: David Yoder)

The Mennonite denomination, like many others, has struggled with divisive issues over the years, and I haven’t always appreciated how these issues have been — or have not been — resolved. But this weekend we were at our best. Progressive Mennonites, Old Order Mennonites, Conservative Mennonites, and Amish worked hand-in-hand to raise money for a belief they all share in common — that it is our joyful duty to lend a helping hand to those in need.

Church groups have been working all year: quilting, woodworking, baking, and canning to donate these goods to the sale. The weekend of the sale, groups and individuals are selling their items, staffing the quilt auction, cooking food, planning logistics, and cleaning the fairgrounds. Our differences are forgotten as we work toward a common goal.

Kettle Corn
Making kettle corn. (photo: David Yoder)

The sale runs Friday night through Saturday afternoon and features multiple auctions, a garage sale, children’s auction and activities, a 10K run, and lots of food: pies, sausage, cheese, pancakes, kettle corn, moon pies, elephant ears, apple dumplings, and new ethnic foods. For my parents, Friday night is the night to buy their year’s supply of sausage from Mishler’s Meats before they sell out. So, my friends and I went with them.

Walking through the crowds on Friday night with our bags of sausage and Nelson’s Golden Glow chicken was like being at a family reunion. In addition to Goshen being a small town, many Mennonites are related and/or know one another. Mennonites in the area go to the sale; Mennonites who have left the area come back for it. Running into relatives and friends I haven’t seen since my last relief sale in 2007 felt like “old home week” at the fairgrounds.

Selling Cheese
A church group sells donated cheese. (photo: David Yoder)

One highlight of the year is the Penny Power fundraiser in which each person is asked to save pennies as tokens of the privileges and abundance he/she has. During the month prior to the relief sale, participants put aside pennies each day based on a Penny Power calendar. The way the Penny Power project links giving and self-awareness is evident in some of these example days on the calendar:

  • Many refugees are forced to leave home with only the shirt on their backs. Give one penny for each shirt or blouse in your closet.
  • In some countries there is only one doctor for every 125,000 people. Give 4 pennies for each health care professional you see.
  • Many people have only one ragged cloth for cover. Give two pennies for every quilt and blanket in your home.
  • Much of the world exists without consistent electricity. Give two pennies for each light switch or lamp in your home.
  • In Haiti, few people can read and write. Give one penny for every book in your home.

But, without question, the crown jewel of the weekend is the quilt auction. Hundreds of quilts are carefully and lovingly created throughout the year and are put up for auction to around 300 bidders. This year, the quilts alone raised $102,000 with one quilt selling for $5,000.

Quilt and Woman
On Friday night, a woman studies one of the quilts that will be auctioned Saturday morning. (photo: David Yoder)

Perhaps most moving was the traveling quilt. The traveling quilt is a beautiful quilt that began traveling earlier this year. It has gone from one relief sale to another across North America, always going up for bids but never sold. Instead, everyone who bids on the quilt gives his/her bid as a donation to MCC. Bids started at $1,000 for a quilt you can’t take home with you and ended with $25 bids. And now it moves on to the next MCC Relief Sale to be held in Virginia this weekend.

Two volunteers “dress the bed” with the next quilt at the quilt auction. (photo: David Yoder)

Ultimately, the relief sale is not just about giving to help the poor. It is also about acknowledging our relative wealth and the resources we have. The sale helped me once again appreciate the values with which I was raised — be generous, care for others, work hard, give till it hurts, work for peace, be the hands and feet of your faith.

Photos by David Yoder

Share Your Reflection



This is so inspiring. I immediately sent a link, drawing attention to the Penny Power Calendar, onto a couple of folks in my PC(USA) home church in Nashville as a possible future fundraiser for communities in need that we serve. I think this would be a great Lenten activity and I definitely plan to have a Penny Calendar and jar at home.

I've been looking around my apartment and thinking of all the things one could count, including some "invisible" items - my cd collection isn't that big... and then I considered how many albums I have in iTunes.

I'd be inclined to up the ante and make Sunday a "dollar day" - a dollar for some major signifiers of our wealth... tv. car. computers. dishwasher. And also using it as a way of considering whether, after counting them, there are belongings that we don't really need that we could sell to raise money for others or be donated to others more in need or that we could share with others.

This is such an adaptable idea with real opportunity for creativity - it could be applied to so many different kinds of issues and causes and so appropriate for kids. I like that folks end up giving relative to their wealth and that it's something members of a household could do together as a reflection on gratitude, service to others and our attachment to material possessions.

I also think it makes for a great way to learn from, and about, our neighbors in the Mennonite tradition and your social justice values. It could be inspiration for conversation - to be encouraged by a different religious tradition's approach to poverty and be open to reinvigorating our own ongoing efforts in new ways.

Thanks for sharing, Anne. So glad this was posted. Looks like a great event and those quilts... oh my. Beautiful.


I love the Penny Power Calendar. What a great tool for appreciating what you have by bringing it into your awareness and a wonderful way to set aside money for other people in need.

What beautiful quilts...but who is going to bring relief to the animals held captive in Mennonite puppy mills? These furry slaves sure could use some Christian charity (or a quilt) in their tiny cold, wire cages, their feet caked with their own filth, never touching grass; never a kind human hand only a swift grab and a push to force them into another cage to breed and breed and breed until death.

This is most distressing to me! I have never heard about this and would like to do something to stop it...where did you hear about this or have you seen it first hand? How can people call themselves Christians and treat animals this way? Disgusting...

Although you've probably found plenty of info online by now, a good intro for some of On Being's listeners/readers is Newsweek article "A (Designer) Dog's Life": http://www.newsweek.com/2009/0.... Another article at http://www.religioustolerance.... quotes scripture: "A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel." Proverbs 12:10. the Hebrew Scriptures, King James Version.