ENID, Okla. — Lines formed early Saturday for the annual Mennonite Relief Sale at Chisholm Trail Expo Center, held to raise funds for water and agriculture projects in the developing world.

A pancake and sausage breakfast kicked off the second and final day of the event, which opened Friday afternoon. Activities continued through noon Saturday with shopping for crafts, food items, books and fair trade gifts, culminating in the annual auction of the People's Choice quilt.

Oklahoma Mennonite Relief Sale is one of 46 relief sales each year in the United States and Canada, all of which raise money for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) worldwide disaster and relief efforts, according to the event website.

Dwight Unruh, co-chairman of the sale, said there was good attendance and participation from vendors this year.

Unruh has been helping with the relief sale for 20 years. Like many of the attendees, vendors and volunteers, he said he comes back each year for the chance to see old friends and help others in need.

"We just do it to help other people," Unruh said, "so they know there are people who want to help, and show them love through giving and making sure they don't go without clean water, food and the word of God."

Many attendees return each year for the quilt auction on Saturday. But to get some of the most popular food items you need to get there early on Friday, before supplies run out.

"We try to make more every year, but it never seems like it's enough," Unruh said with a laugh.

'In the name of Christ'

Verlin Koehn, with Grace Mennonite Church, 4006 N. Oakwood in Enid, said the church's pie booth was busy as soon as it opened Friday afternoon.

"A lot of people come back year after year to buy their pies for Thanksgiving," Koehn said. "At four o'clock, as soon as we open, that's when everyone wants to get here to buy their pies."

Church members from Grace Mennonite baked more than 300 pies for the sale — 213 pies were sold by Friday evening, and Koehn said they expected to sell out the remainder on Saturday.

The church's speciality is its rhubarb pies, Koehn said. But don't expect to get one of those if you show up late. Koehn said all 49 rhubarb pies sold out shortly after the booth opened Friday.

At the other end of the event space, Maynard and JoEllen Yoder, of Zion Mennonite Church in Pryor, were busy selling apple butter, angel food cakes, pickles and jams.

Shoppers who wanted some of Zion's seedless blackberry jam were out of luck Saturday. Maynard said every jar sold out in one purchase on Friday.

The couple said they'd enjoyed helping organize and sell items for the sale.

"It's been a lot of fun meeting people, and it's just a good experience out here," JoEllen said.

Maynard said about 30 members of the church had been busy creating the items for the sale, motivated by the opportunity to help people in need.

But working together toward a common Christian goal also has benefits for the church, JoEllen said.

"We have a lot of great fellowship, and it helps us grow as a church, by working together," she said. "It's an enriching experience, for sure."

Nearby, Karen Neufeld, with Fairview Mennonite Brethren Church, was helping shoppers purchase long-awaited supplies of zwiebach, a traditional German two-tiered dinner roll, and homemade bread.

She said the baking in advance of the relief sale was a group effort of the church's women for more than a month.

Church members come together each year to prepare for the sale out of a sense of tradition and the opportunity to contribute to MCC's relief efforts, Neufeld said.

"It's an opportunity to help feed the hungry, and it's all in the name of Christ," she said. "That's why we do it."

Unruh said this weekend's event was on pace to match or exceed last year's total of $150,000 raised to support MCC relief efforts. For more information on Mennonite Central Committee, visit https://mcc.org.

Fair-trade artwork

Christmas shopping also was in full swing Saturday, with an emphasis on handcrafted and fair trade gift items.

One of the perennial favorites is the Ten Thousand Villages booth, offering fair trade crafts handmade by artisans in the developing world.

Jane Wagler, manager of Et Cetera Shop, the Ten Thousand Villages retailer in Hutchinson, Kan., said items were available from artisans in 39 countries, including the United States.

"The artisan groups these items are sourced from are in the countries where MCC works," Wagler said, "and that's why we're always at the relief sales."

Artisans are paid a living wage upfront for their products, which are then sold to fund MCC relief efforts. Wagler said it's an effort to promote fair trade and make artisans and families in the developing world self-sufficient.

"These are artisans who have skills, and instead of giving them grants we try to sell their merchandise, so they can earn a living," Wagler said.

As a member of the Fair Trade Federation, Wagler said Ten Thousand Villages focuses on ensuring all the artisans are paid a true living wage — not a minimum wage — and all the goods are produced with minimal environmental impact, including the use of a large percentage of recycled products.

That emphasis can make fair trade products slightly more expensive than mass-produced items, or even handmade items provided by wholesalers that don't ensure fair trade practices. But, Wagler said, "items become cheap when they're produced in slave labor."

Paying a little extra for fair trade items is a "win-win," Wagler said.

"It is a justice issue, it is an income-generating program for MCC relief efforts and it is an issue of environmentally responsible products," Wagler said. "We call them the gifts that give twice. The person who receives these items receives a gift, and the person who made them makes a living wage to support their families."

For information on fair trade practices and retailers, go to https://www.fairtradefederation.org.

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com.
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for James? Send an email to jneal@enidnews.com.

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