Quilts, sausage and service | Columbia Basin Herald



RITZVILLE — According to Pastor Bryce Miller, on an ordinary worship day, there are at most 40 or 50 people gathered at Menno Mennonite Church about 22 miles west of Ritzville.

“Menno is a long-established congregation that dates back to about 1900,” Miller said.

But last Saturday, Oct. 1, hundreds of people gathered at this little church situated amid the rolling, wheat-covered hills of Adams County for the 45th annual Mennonite Country Auction, to help raise money to support the domestic and international relief efforts of the Mennonite Church USA.

Miller said on Tuesday his congregation raised over $130,000 for the Mennonite Central Committee, which oversees the church’s relief activities.

“Our best year to date,” he said.

On Saturday, however, the pastor is busy helping at the cashier table as people pay for lunch — sausage on a stick with sauerkraut, or grilled cheese sandwiches. The churchyard is full of people eating, listening to music, and eyeing baked goods and hand-made items from the fair trade organization Ten Thousand Villages. A bluegrass and gospel band, Bethel Mountain Band from Salem, Oregon, is busy warming up, and visitors are looking over the quilts, furniture and woodcraft items up for auction.

“It’s a little bit up,” Miller said of the attendance at the Saturday fundraiser. “It’s hard to gauge in the last couple of years, for obvious reasons. But yeah, this is probably slightly above average.”

TS Laurens, the owner of Stampede Meats in Kalispell, Montana, which sells Redneck brand meats, was busy selling ham, bacon and sausage out of the back of a large truck. For the last 20 years, he’s been selling a custom apple-sausage he makes and sells only at the Mennonite Country Auction.

“Only for this event,” Laurens said.

While there was plenty of commerce, there were also volunteers highlighting the different ways people can help their neighbors, whether they live close or far away.

“We came to spread the word, to network, to get to know people, but yes, we are auctioning off items for the benefit,” said Michele WhiteEagle of Mennonite Disaster Service.

WhiteEagle said MDS helps people recover from major disasters like hurricanes and wildfires. While MDS has not finalized its plans to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, WhiteEagle said the organization spent over three years in Texas and Louisiana helping the victims of Hurricane Harvey rebuild their homes.

“We work with community organizations, long-term recovery groups and funders, and bring in volunteer labor to help rebuild houses for a much-reduced price compared to what they’d have to pay a contractor to do,” she said.

WhiteEagle noted that in Paradise, California, which was destroyed by the Camp Fire in 2018, MDS was able to get homes rebuilt for $150,000, less than half the $400,000 charged by a typical contractor.

MDS is always looking for volunteers, WhiteEagle said. You don’t have to have skills, and you can sign up for whatever amount of time you can contribute, she said.

“There’s people who go for long term, like a month or more, at projects,” she said. “We set up with a project director, a cook, an office manager, we bring all the tools and equipment and transport trucks, things that people need to be able to get to job sites. We bring them in and feed them, then we put them to work doing great things.”

The auction itself was powered by volunteers, many of them coming from the West Side to help with the day’s events.

“I am a helper with the quilt committee, and there are 64 quilts that will be on auction,” said Nell Alexander, a Seattle resident who has been volunteering at the auction for the last eight years or so. “I’m not a Mennonite Church member. But my two close friends in Seattle are and run the quilt part of the auction.”

“A lot of people are here from all over,” Alexander added. “It’s not just a local event.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabaisnherald.com.

For more information on Mennonite Disaster Service, visit mds.org. For more information on the Mennonite Central Committee, which oversees the church’s relief efforts, visit mcc.org.

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