Sask Valley churches celebrate 40 years of helping people who are hungry
Peggie Wiebe of Hague, Saskatchewan, is an organized woman. Together with her band of volunteers, they coordinate the food, prizes, donations, youth groups, and auction items that make up the annual Sask Valley Auction near Gruenthal, thirty minutes north of Saskatoon. It’s a lot of work, but the team does their part with a willing heart. They know their efforts are going toward a good cause.
The Sask Valley Auction raises money for the work of responding to hunger around the world through Canadian Foodgrains Bank. It is organized by members of several local Mennonite churches: Bergthaler Mennonite, Neuanlage Grace Mennonite, Old Colony Mennonite (Neuanlage), Osler Mission Chapel, and Old Bergthaler Mennonite (Rheinland). Its draw however, brings hundreds of people from the Sask Valley and beyond.
There isn’t much that could stop Peggie and her committee of women from being part of the annual auction. It is something she’s done for 23 years—except for this year.
On the eve of the auction’s 40th anniversary the global pandemic forced the organizers to cancel this year’s event. “It was a strange feeling,” says Peggie.
In reality, it’s so much more than an auction. For the church members who volunteer, it is an act of faithfulness in responding to the call in the Bible to feed the hungry and love the poor.
“It’s amazing to watch the sale,” says Peggie, reflecting on past years. “Even on something that doesn’t have that much value, people can keep on bidding higher and higher because of where the money is going.”
The auction has raised over $3 million for the work of ending hunger since it began and the organizing committee had plans to recognize and celebrate in a special way this past June. But it was not to be.
“It was a huge blow, especially it being our fortieth, says Bill Wiebe, a former auction chairman who still volunteers with the auction. “It was tough to accept it wasn’t going to happen, especially as our region didn’t get hit very hard by the pandemic.”
Bill is still optimistic for the future, particularly when he reflects on the success of the auction in past years. “Some items, we’ll just start bidding–once, a four litre pail of strawberries went for ten times what it’s worth. It’s such a fun event,” he says.
Tina Buhler agrees.
It was back in 1981 that she and her husband, Dave, and their friends Corny and Ann Derksen came up with the idea for an auction to raise money for Mennonite Central Committee’s account at the Foodgrains Bank.
“We also heard in church that there was need,” she said. “We took it seriously.” She adds that they were sad to see grain sitting unsold and unwanted in their fields.
They were thrilled with the results of the first sale, which raised $15,000.
“We didn’t know how it would turn out,” Tina said. “It was so much fun.”
Rick Block is the Foodgrains Bank regional representative for Saskatchewan. “Considering the global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the larger and longer story here is not the loss of the auction in 2020; rather, it’s the profound generosity of heart evident in the lives of those who lead and contribute to the auction. Their faithfulness year upon year is invaluable to the mission of feeding the hungry and is a testament to churches working together locally to have an impact globally. “
Rick points to people like Richard Mierau, whose company Mierau Auctions has long supported the auction.
“To feed the hungry is a very important thing,” Richard says. “It’s something we just fell into, but it was a real honour for us as a company to be part of it. Seeing what we’ve been able to raise, it makes you humble.”