It rained on the 51st annual Michiana Mennonite Relief Sale.
Lightning lit up the sky and raindrops drummed against roofs this past weekend, as hundreds of people came together under tents and awnings to share food for a cause.
Congregations from across Michiana sold food, crafts and more to raise funds for the Mennonite Central Committee’s relief efforts.
According to Dayton Freys, treasurer for the Mennonite Relief Sale, this year’s efforts brought in over $440,000. MCC will use the money for relief and development work around the world.
Everyone has a favorite food. Haystacks, Kenyan samosas, cinnamon rolls, pancakes and sausage, strawberry shortcake. And of course, apple fritters.
Julie Reese, professor of psychology, shares the joy of apple fritters by giving out free vouchers.
“We donate money to the relief sale to give tickets to students and alumni,” Reese said. “That’s my favorite part.”
Along with fritters, the food tent offered welsh cakes and peppercorn, Indian curry and mango smoothies, Russian crepes, Kenyan samosas, egg rolls and pork fried rice, donuts and strawberry shortcake and more.
Nappanee Brethren in Christ Church has been selling Welsh cakes for 30 years, said Charlene Flowers, a volunteer, as she flipped the small, round cakes on a griddle.
Welsh cakes are like a cross between a pancake and a scone, Flowers said. They’re made from flour, nutmeg, dried black currants, sugar and butter. Slightly sweet and golden brown, the cakes are delightful with a drizzle of honey.
The Indian curry was a creamy blend of shredded chicken, onions, celery and tomatoes, seasoned with ginger, garlic and cumin, and served over rice. The Kenyan stand offered crispy samosas stuffed with beef and onion or an earthy mung bean filling as a vegetarian option.
Nadia Kulish came to the U.S. from Ukraine, and has been selling Russian food at the relief sale for three or four years, she said. This year, she sold stewed potatoes, barbeque chicken and pork, crepes with homemade farm cheese, fried meat pockets, and chocolate cake.
A mother of nine, Kulish doesn’t have extra money to donate to the relief sale, she said, but she still contributes.
“I can cook and sell,” she said.
Kulish and her children begin preparing food for the relief sale two weeks in advance. Often, the children clean while she cooks, she said.
“Today I made food,” she said. “They sleep.”
Adam Fellows, of Locust Grove Mennonite in Sturgis, Michigan, enjoyed Kulish’s crepes with cheese. “They’re delicious,” Fellows said.
Fellows comes from a family of cooks, he said. “My whole goal is to come down here and eat something from a different culture and then go home and make it,” he said. He would like to run a Mediterranean booth at a future relief sale, he said.
Two booths down from Kulish, volunteers from 8th Street Mennonite Church sold fruit smoothies. Kim Graves blended crushed ice with frozen peaches, milk, and a dash of vanilla. Behind her, a young volunteer hacked at frozen strawberries with a metal spoon, breaking off chunks for the blenders.
“This is a fun booth,” Graves said. Seeing friends and working with the other volunteers is her favorite part of the relief sale, she said.
The menu’s mixed smoothie layered strawberry and peach flavors, yellow on top of pink, for a chilly, flavorful treat. Wisps of water vapor curled off the smoothie’s cold surface into the warm air, perfectly complementing a steaming fried meat pocket from the Russian booth.
On Saturday morning in the drizzling rain, hundreds lined up outside the hog barn for the pancake breakfast. The barn was filled with the babble of conversation and laughter as friends greeted each other.
“A little rain never kept good Mennonites from the relief sale,” said Twila Eshelman of Clinton Frame Church. Pancakes and sausage are one of Eshelman’s relief sale favorites.
The pancake breakfast usually draws between 1300-1600 people, said Regina Miller, from River Oaks Community Church. Regina and her husband Harley, have been managing volunteers at the breakfast for about 10 years, she said.
In the serving line, 12-year-old Joshua Swartz, from Warsaw Townline Church, munched on a sausage with one hand as he served butter pats with the other. His favorite part of helping at the event is “watching people enjoy their morning,” he said.
In a tent outside, a team of volunteers produced pancakes in mesmerizing synchrony. Two women mixed water with over 300 pounds of pancake powder using electric beaters. Two more volunteers shuttled the batter to the griddles using funnel droppers, releasing the perfect amount of batter for each cake.
Six men stood behind six hot plates, each watching and flipping his grid of 18 pancakes. Runners carried off the finished pancakes to the hog barn to join sausages and syrup for breakfast.
At the end of the sale, all the uneaten and wasted food is composted. Kate Friesen of Benton Mennonite Church helped organize over 84 volunteers to monitor waste collection and collect food scraps, she said.
Steve Shantz, systems supervisor at Goshen College, took the food scraps home to compost them. “I brought home about nine cubic yards of bags,” he said.
Shantz piles the scraps at home to begin decomposition. In the spring, he’ll let his ducks and geese pick through the mound for tasty insects. Shantz will use the finished compost to grow food in his garden, he said.