Matt Schmidt hates running but loves supporting Mennonite Central Committee.
When the Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale’s main event was canceled, it opened up opportunities for volunteers like Schmidt to take part in other aspects of the annual MCC fundraiser in new ways.
Across the United States and Canada, relief sales are evaluating how they can adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic and still raise what they can to support MCC’s work.
A member of the Kansas sale’s executive board who helps his wife, Amy, with 5K Run for Relief logistics, Schmidt is usually too focused on that and operating the silent auction to do the run.
“I’ve actually not run more than a mile in the last 25 years,” he said. “I actually don’t like running at all, but the cause seemed like a good one.”
With the April 17-18 sale’s Hutchinson event canceled, Schmidt decided to challenge board secretary Barb “BJ” Reeves of Buhler to see who could raise more money in a scattered, virtual 5K.
“He asked me if I would be willing to do something just to generate some interest and more donations and make a fun thing about it,” she said.
When all the checks came through, Schmidt ended up raising $2,114 to Reeves’ $1,501 on April 18.
“I told him you might have won the competition, but the real winner was MCC,” Reeves said.
As of April 28, the Kansas Run for Relief raised $28,000, compared to nearly $32,000 last year. Participants who raised the most were Karen Loganbill of Moundridge with $5,000 and Debbie Claassen of Whitewater with $2,465.
Noting that the pandemic has impacted everyone in negative ways, Schmidt was encouraged by how uplifting it was to see people across the country connecting with each other posting photos the day of the run.
“Once the decision was made not to hold the sale, the conversation immediately shifted to What can we do? — and the larger issue is raising money for MCC,” he said. “Sitting around and pouting wasn’t doing a lot of good.”
Rather than the traditional auction, some of the Kansas sale’s vehicles and antique tractors are being sold at kansas.mccsale.org with suggested prices, while others are being held until next April.
In place of the widely attended Feeding of the Multitude verenike and sausage supper, the sale suggested counting how many people ate supper around the table at home April 17 and sending $12 for each individual to MCC, since that is the average price of a meal.
Even though sales didn’t take place as planned in Kansas and other states, congregations still collected funds for My Coins Count for months.
Last year, My Coins Count generated $589,185 in the United States and $62,660 in Canada. This year’s currently canceled spring sales produced $241,826 in spare change last year.
Fritters in Fresno
The Celebration for World Relief in Fresno, Calif., is one sale still collecting my Coins Count contributions, which are being doubled by a matching donor. As the sale considers alternative fundraising activities to sell items donated or purchased for the canceled April 17-18 event at Fresno Pacific University, sale organizers encouraged supporters to contribute to MCC whether or not they would have attended a physical event.
“Just think about how many dozens of fritters you would have bought at the sale and give that amount,” suggested an email directing donations to westcoastmccsale.org.
One household thought about fritters so much, they made their own to sell for MCC. Calvin and Christine Certain are hosting Edd and Ingrid Russell, who would typically be working as missionaries in Thailand but are limited to staying in the U.S. until travel restrictions ease.
The group contacted members of their church to give away fritters and encourage donations to MCC. All but one of two dozen bags of six fritters each were able to find a home.
Smaller, later sales
The New Hamburg (Ont.) Mennonite Relief Sale is planning to hold a smaller in-person event in October in place of what would have happened May 29-30.
In spite of the cancellation, quilts will be sold on May 30. The sale is moving forward with an online auction of 100 quilts to celebrate 100 years of MCC at nhmrs.com/content/online-auction.
“We are well positioned to have this online auction as we did our first one last year in conjunction with the live sale,” said Sheryl Bruggeling to the New Hamburg Independent. She is MCC Ontario communications and events senior manager and a member of the relief sale organizing committee.
Like the Kansas sale, New Hamburg will hold a virtual Run for Relief May 28-June 1.
The Black Swamp Benefit in Archbold, Ohio, was canceled and a new event was created for June 20 at Central Mennonite Church. Organizers hope to hold a haystack dinner, hymn sing and quilt auction as the final coins are collected.
The Idaho Mennonite World Relief Festival is also hoping to hold a smaller event Aug. 29 at Evergreen Heights Mennonite Church in Caldwell, when items like the centennial pitcher will be auctioned. In the meantime, the sale is encouraging donations by the end of May to support specific MCC water, education and food initiatives.
“It was hard to cancel our main event, so we wanted to plan something to allow for a time of gathering and celebrating this milestone, thus the Aug. 29 event,” wrote Idaho sale chair Rick Bollman by email. “Plus, we miss eating great food and working together to help those around the world.”
If the August event doesn’t take place, organizers may hold an online auction for some donations.
Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale and Auction is shifting from July 31-Aug. 1 at the Wayne County Fairgrounds in Wooster to a weeklong online auction that will run Sept. 26-Oct. 3. The online event will include the traditional quilts and auction items along with MCC centennial items and a few things that would have been available in booths at the sale. Experimentation with food takeout options could take place.
Instead of holding the Iowa Mennonite Relief Sale, donations and My Coins Count contributions were sought online. Iowa sale executive board co-chair Rebecca Beachy Miller said online auctions haven’t worked well in the past, and the decision was made not to ask local small business for donations this year because of the challenging economic climate.
The Iowa sale had ordered 12 matching mugs to go with its centennial pitcher, and all of those items, as well as the quilts, will be saved for next year.