The Mennonite Mecca

I’d like to paint you a picture of the sorts of things that have been going on around here the past few months, and with growing fervor the past few days.

I’ll start with church basements. Possibly a little chilly, but with a bunch of women getting together to make some quilts — along with some conversation, maybe some snacks.

Or perhaps about hundreds of kitchens throughout Kansas, warm with baking pies, cookies, breads, and all sorts of items. Then there are a bunch of wood shops, turning up sawdust, building things from toys to furniture. Or even a body shop donating its time and materials to put some finishing touches on a classic car.

I’ve also seen around 300 men getting together to practice for a men’s chorus concert. I know there was large crowd of people gathering to make verenike. People always wind up running 5km on a particular Saturday morning, rain or shine. Or ride 35 miles on a bicycle on a different Saturday. Or even help build a house using as much volunteer labor and donated materials as possible.

And then, of course, comes this week, where Mennonites from all over Kansas start to converge on Hutchinson, KS. I can imagine you might see some odd sights rolling down the road: a vehicle called the “borscht buggy” for preparing large quantities of the delicious soup. Several old tractors being hauled down the road on trailers. Semi loads of food. Vanloads of pie and cookies. Plants, trees, rugs, quilts, even a lawn mower. And then, yesterday and today, excited people ready to buy all of these things. Families with children excited to get a ride on the largest slide they’ve ever seen. And, of course, so many people wanting to eat the famous food that, despite the many parallel serving areas, lines still can extend for blocks.

It’s all because people are hungry.

Not these Kansans with pie-laden kitchens, though — it’s to help those in need.

It’s all part of the annual Kansas MCC Relief Sale. The idea is that people make, bake, build, sing, or give things to the sale. The items are then sold, and the proceeds go to Mennonite Central Committee, one of the world’s most efficient charities. MCC not only helps with directly bringing people out of hunger, but also supports sustainable projects, such as building hand-operated wells to give those in need a safe source of drinking water. Virtually all of the money you spend on those pies winds up helping someone in poverty.

Each year, the relief sale and related events raise around half a million dollars for charity.

It’s not unusual to see a quilt sell for thousands of dollars. Most of the things sell at more normal prices, but last year someone decided to add a loaf of bread to an auction — and it sold for $100.

And so it was this that we took the boys to today. We started with the “Feeding the Multitude” — a wonderful meal with some traditional Kansas Mennonite food. Here’s a photo:

That bread is zwieback, then there is cherry moos, bohne berrogi, verenike, and of course, sausage.

Here are Jacob and Oliver enjoying their food:


After that, we went over to the giant slide. I’m not sure how many stories tall it is, but it’s big enough that they have a strip of carpet there at the bottom to slow people down at the end. Here’s a photo of Jacob on my lap after going down the slide. If you zoom in, you can see the giant smile on his face.


After that, we hopped on the “mass transit” at the sale: a wagon being pulled by a tractor. We checked out the general auction, with Jacob wanting to be sure to peer under the hood of each car present. Then after a stop to buy some kettle corn for Jacob, we checked out the plants, quilt auction, and then on to buy cheese curds.

After another stop at the slide, it was time to head home.

And then tomorrow is a concert of the Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus (motto: We Sing That Others May Live). You get around 300 men on a stage signing together and wow — no recording can do it justice. It’s amazing to hear the power of the choir at the loud parts, but still more amazing to listen to 300 men signing as softly as they possibly can. I’ve been singing with that choir for 3 years, and we’ve been practicing for a few months now.

If you ever hear some Mennonites boasting about something, it’s probably going to be about how much money they’ve raised for charity. And on that note, I’ll nudge those Indiana folks reading this and point out that you have some catching up to do with the Kansas sale…

5 thoughts on “The Mennonite Mecca

  1. fil says:

    Okay John. For starters, the Indiana quilt auction is significantly better than the Kansas one…and they begin the auction with the sale of two loaves of bread that go for around $1,000 each. The variety and magnitude of the Michiana sale in terms of contributors/participants, goods offered, attendees and monies raised is also larger. And personally, for Marla and I at least, the inclusion of bonnegrogge-no matter how it is spelled :) negates many good things about the otherwise great ethnic German cuisine offered here. You have not had grilled chicken until you have been treated to Nelson’s Golden Glow and Mishler”s sausage is in a league of its own.

    Furthermore, at a basic logistical level, from parking to how one pays for goods the Kansas sale is similar to a 5 year old’s roadside lemonade stand. To the Kansans’ credit, their pre-sale fund-raising meals are a great idea…but that, in reality is the only component the Indiana folks should consider adopting from here.

    Nevertheless, The Kansas sale is a wonderful event!

    1. D says:

      I have lived in northern IN & now KS. You cannot compare the sales income period. IN has a much much richer economy. Kansans are very very generous with what they have including love & time… it’s like comparing apples n oranges. They do the best they can in the environment they r in. You just cannot compare events like this to each other based on area. Lol. IN a placed loaded with factories & $$$$ KS not so much… either way… it’s not necessary to be insulting. I loved both places very much.

  2. terah says:

    I have to agree that bohne berrogi is pretty gross!

    I think part of what John was referring to is total reported funds raised. According to the Michiana sale’s website, their last sale resulted in Raised approx. $360,000 gross; $122,000 in auctions and $19,000 Penny Power.

    According to prelimary reports of yesterday’s Kansas sale: The Total: $419,215.08
    The breakdown:
    Quilts: $98,403.50
    …General auction: $42,233.50
    Silent Auction: $5,825.00
    Surplus auction: $8,066.25
    Children’s auction: $882.00
    Penny power: $18,679.19
    Run for relief: $22,923.02
    Ten Thousand Villages $10,150.00
    Because of the excellent pre-sale fundraising to cover expenses, all money raised on the day of the Kansas sale goes to MCC.

  3. Gav says:

    This sounds like the retiring farmers auctions here in Wales, £200 for a broken shovel. Its the people that count.
    btw : signing or singing (KMMC)?

  4. Karen Cooper says:

    I would like to do some “MCC Sale hopping” but this year everything got canceled.

    My former pastor helped get Washington State’s MCC Sale started back in the ’80’s & was on the North American MCC Sale Board. We may be “relatively new” (we celebrated our 50th year in 2019), but we do things wholeheartedly. My parents were Sale contacts for our church for many years & my brother currently is one of the contacts. One of the things they do at steering meetings is auction things (like $50 for an apple…and some things are resold the next meeting) to help with “behind the scenes” expenses.

    Our sale may not be as big as others, but our sale is big enough that it is held on our State Fairgrounds…and is the second largest event on the fairgrounds, only the State Fair itself is larger.

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