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It was Saturday, March 30, 1957 and a relief sale was ready to begin at the Ralph S. Hertzler farm home. The idea for a sale had started as a result of a minister having a conviction that something should be done for relief needs. Ford Berg, pastor of the Zion Mennonite Church near Morgantown, proposed to his church council that if each member of the Mennonite churches in the area would give $10, a substantial offering could be given to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), an organization known for their relief work throughout the world.
Several churches could not offer that amount, but suggested contributing items for a relief sale. Enthusiasm for this idea grew and a committee formed to hold a sale. Their goal was $2,000 – and the proceeds of the first sale were $4,500. They were on to something!
The following year, a meeting was held to more clearly define the sale and elect officers. The name Tri-County Relief Committee for MCC was born – referring to the counties of the founding organizers: Berks, Chester, and Lancaster.
Five years later, the sale was attracting 1,000 buyers coming not only from the local area but also New York, New Jersey, and Maryland. The proceeds from that sale were $5,600. The most spirited bidding came from the sale of handmade quilts. By the sixth year sale, buyers were coming from Virginia and Delaware.
Sale organizers would often meet over dinner, and an idea came about to hold a fundraising dinner to help cover the operating costs of the sale. The first dinner took place in 1968, and these dinners have been occurring each year since. Today, two dinners are held annually and both raise a substantial amount of money to defray operating costs.
By the 8th year, the Hertzler farm was not big enough to hold the sale. For the next few years, the sale took place at Twin Slope Markets in Morgantown. The first sale there in 1969 raised $34,400. But challenges arose between operating the sale and other businesses at the market.
It was decided to look at the Farm Show building in Harrisburg as a location. Then Pennsylvania Governor Milton Shapp wrote a letter inviting the committee to consider this option. He and his wife had attended the relief sales and loved the strawberry pies. The first sale in Harrisburg took place in March 1976 and netted $91,000. The sale was renamed to the Pennsylvania Relief Sale.
Over the years, the sale grew to include new ideas and supporting events to expand fundraising:
After more than 60 years, one aspect continues to be the defining piece to the sale: the annual Quilt Auction. The Quilt Auction celebrates the work of numerous artists and needle workers. Quilters spend hours choosing patterns and fabric, piecing, appliqueing, embroidering, quilting, and finishing. The beauty and artistry of the quilts sold at the sale are unmatched. Hundreds of people attend the two-day live auction to bid on and buy the state’s finest handcrafted quilts. Today, on average, more than 350 quilts are sold at the auction, raising well-over $100,000 annual for MCC.The history of the Pennsylvania Relief Sale is filled with pride and gratitude to all of the supporters and volunteers who gave generously of their time and resources each year. The two-day sale draws thousands of visitors from across the state and beyond. In addition to the Quilt Auction, visitors can also bid on and buy antiques, artisan goods, crafts, children's items, and more. Homemade food ranging from soups to strawberry pies is also available throughout the sale.
The sale enhances the overall work of MCC and every donation or purchase has advanced the worldwide efforts of MCC to respond to basic human needs and work for peace and justice in the name of Christ. More than $16 million has been donated to MCC to date!
The goal of the sale has always remained the same: to create a festive, family-friendly event that Celebrates Community and Creates Hope.