For nearly half a century, the Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale has been a spring tradition of food, quilts and good buys.
Held at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, the festival and benefit auction often draw thousands of people from across the Midwest.
This year’s sale is April 11-12, and so far, it promises to be one of the best.
“I keep saying the list can’t get any better, and then one more item comes in,” said Becky Blough, the sale’s publicity chairwoman.
The annual sale celebrates Kansas faith, heritage and charity. The festival and sale are organized by about 70 Mennonite, Brethren in Christ and Amish congregations and feature quilts, food, crafts, plants, trees, antique tractors and cars, mowers and solar energy systems.
It is that legacy that helped define and shape Kansas. The state is nicknamed “the wheat state” largely because Mennonite farmers showed how hardy winter wheat could thrive on the prairie.
More than 15,000 Mennonites came to the United States from Russia between 1874 and 1884; of those, 5,000 settled in Kansas. They formed communities at Goessel, Inman, Buhler, Moundridge and elsewhere in central Kansas.
And that agrarian German-Russian heritage often can be found at the sale.
First, there’s the food: verenika and bohne beroggi (cottage cheese dumplings with ham gravy on top and warm pastries with a sweet bean filling) and borscht. The “Feeding of the Multitude” is a German buffet that typically serves between 6,000 and 7,000 people who attend the sale. The buffet includes plenty of the aforementioned food as well as cherry and plum moos – essentially a fruit soup or thin pudding – zwiebach bread and homemade pie.
In recent years, the auction typically has featured a few antique tractors and cars. This year, there are seven antique tractors, a new lawnmower and a solar energy package.
“We have an exciting lineup for the general auction,” Blough said Sunday. “It is one of those things that kind of scares you but makes you excited at the same time. We have a whole list of tractors and two cars. It will be interesting to see how they will sell. One of the most unique items is a 1950 John Deere MTW that is very rare. It has never been restored and has only had two owners. It is in amazing condition.”
The auction also includes a 1985 Lincoln Town Car and a 1972 Buick Electra.
Another festival highlight will be the quilt auction, which features more than 200 hand-crafted quilts and quilt-related items.
The two-day sale is one of the largest of its type in the nation. The Mennonite sales often draw on the uniqueness of each region in which they are held, Blough said.
Proceeds from the sales are used to provide for basic needs and community development across the world. The Mennonite Central Committee works in partnership with local agencies around the globe and has a history of addressing natural disasters and issues relating to food security and food injustices.
Last year’s sale totaled about $469,000.
“It is hard to know what we are going to bring in each year,” Blough said. “It depends on how generous our donors are and how our auctions do.”