Glassware not really for sale

One of the reason that we Mennonites love our annual MCC Relief Sale so much has to be that it is the one time in the year when spending with abandon is not only allowed but encouraged. You could think of it as a day of relief from frugality.

To a point.

It is true that we cheer when quilts are auctioned for outrageous sums. No wild hooting and hollering, but more than a smattering of polite applause. Ostensibly, this clapping is praising the money that will go to relief work. But, given our natural tendencies, I think that our applause also shows our amazement at people being able to so completely let their purse strings loose.

Given that most of us are too innately frugal to even think of spending thousands on an elaborate bed covering, that applause is our way of acknowledging the incredible strength we imagine it must take to spend money.

Spendthrifts leave us in awe.

But fear not, bargain hunter! By no means do we expect everyone to release their inner profligate. While there’s a certain encouragement to spend, we also have structures in place to keep the frugal content.

We wouldn’t know how to build the event any other way.


The quilt auction is arguably the most difficult part of the sale to find a bargain. Many of the quilts are amazingly beautiful and represent hours of painstaking handiwork. These won’t go cheap.

Still, every year there are a few quilts that will keep you every bit as warm as the works of art but will sell at little more than the cost of fabric.  It is a mystery to me how some odd pieces can create beauty in combination and others an eyesore.I am fairly convinced that were I ever to attempt quilting again (not likely), the result would be a regrettable combination of colours that looked better in parts than in the whole.

And so I feel for those quilts that are more aspirational than inspirational and, if you are seeking a bargain at the quilt auction, I encourage you to ferret out the eyesore and raise your bidding card in recognition that someone tried. And failed. But even so. That’s better than me. And it’s probably better than you.


The food stalls at the Relief Sale remain a tribute to frugality. These stalls are typically supplied and staffed by a local congregation. As it generally requires a full quorum at a congregational meeting to raise the price of any given food item, you can expect 1970s prices for everything from BBQ chicken to roll kuchen.*

Lest you think that you could spend to excess here by buying large quantities of doughnuts or fritters, be warned that the booths normally place a limit on the number of items per customer. They also normally arrange it so that one must stand in long lines for up to an hour, thus limiting the number of booths that the customer can attend. Both systems help to enforce frugal behaviour. The bargain hunter need not worry about being tempted to overspend.


In addition to quilts, one normally also finds all sorts of odds and ends, from aging farm implements to kitchen doo dads for sale on auction at a separate location. This year’s promotional website declares, “It is always considered a highlight of the Outdoors Auction when there is a tractor on the auction block.” Yes, indeed, fun times.

Did I mention that most Mennonites these days are city-dwellers?

Never mind all that. From the junk auction, you could find yourself taking home such treasures as a crate full of mason jars, a porch swing, or a handy dandy hand saw. And despite the money all going to a good cause, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone there willing to spend above market value.

That’s because the Mennonite Relief Sale is not the sort of charity event that demands the spending of copious funds or shames people for holding back. It’s the sort of place that you can spend in, well, moderate abandon and feel good about it. We Mennonites have a hard-earned reputation for frugality and we’re not about to give that all up for a day of recklessness.

Sure, we’ll clap if you spend the price of a Vancouver house on a quilt but we’ll also nod appreciatively if you head home with a second-hand magazine rack and no more than your fair share of doughnuts or bumbleberry pie. Admittedly, we might shake our heads in confusion if you try to ride that antique tractor home to your little downtown condominium. But that’s not frugality. That’s just common sense.

*Note that you can expect different food items than listed here if your local Relief Sale is not the one in New Hamburg, Ontario. I have this on the authority of social media.

Frugal Relief

Today’s cocktail uses the fresh rhubarb from your garden (if you don’t have any, you can pick some up at the sale. Just don’t spend more than a couple bucks for rhubarb. That’s just crazy).

  • 1 oz ginFrugal Relief
  • 1 oz rhubarb simple syrup (see below)
  • 1 1/2 oz fizzy water
  • 1 stalk of rhubarb

Shake gin and rhubarb simple syrup in a shaker with ice. Strain into glass and add fizzy water and a single cube of ice. Garnish with a stalk of rhubarb.

Rhubarb Simple Syrup
  • 1 bunch rhubarb (about 6 stalks)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water

Chop the rhubarb and spread on a pan. Sprinkle with sugar and cover with water. Bake at 350 until the rhubarb is soft. Remove from oven and smash with a potato masher. Strain, reserving the liquid for the syrup. The syrup can be stored for a few weeks in the fridge in one of those nice mason jars you got at the relief sale. You could probably also freeze it. Serve the strained rhubarb pulp to your family for a nice frugal dessert.