Over the past 35 years, the annual auction at Walter Wiebe’s farm near Neuanlage has raised more than $3 million for the Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB), making it the longest-running and most generous project in the country for the humanitarian food aid agency.
“This year is a milestone, because it’s the 35th anniversary of the event,” said John Longhurst, Director of Fundraising and Communications for the Winnipeg-based CFGB. “It’s pretty amazing what this community has done. It started out with two local farm couples sitting around a table talking about holding a little auction to raise money for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to help feed hungry people. And now it’s by far the most successful project in the country. It raises between $100,000 and $120,000 every year for the food grains bank.”
In an interview at the event on Saturday morning, June 20, Longhurst said the “Osler auction” is a long-standing tradition that actually pre-dates the CFGB by three years.
“The CFGB started in 1983,” he said. “The folks who started this event began raising money for the MCC, and then later to the food grains bank for MCC’s work through our agency.”
Longhurst said the event is multi-generational. “Two area couples started it and then it was organized by their children and now the grandchildren are also involved,” he said.
As a steady rain drummed on the roof of the familiar red-and-white striped tent, the first item sold at the event by auctioneer Richard Mireau was a commemorative 35th anniversary CFGB cap in memory of the late Corney Doerksen, one of the founders of the event who passed away a few months ago. The cap, which was later donated to Corney’s widow, went for $500.
The MCC is one of 15 member agencies of the CFGB. Funds for specific MCC overseas aid projects are matched on a four-to-one basis by the federal government, boosting the amounts available to purchase locally-grown food for refugees in war-torn countries or victims of natural disasters in countries around the world. The CFGB has approximately 250 community projects across Canada.
Longhurst said a CFGB survey last year found that over 5,000 people, 800 churches and 1,300 businesses are actively involved in supporting these projects, many of which include the proceeds from crops grown on land donated by local farmers for the purpose.
He said when the CFGB first began, grain from local farmers was donated directly famine-stricken countries, but the policy was changed about 15 years ago
“It’s more efficient to donate the funds from the sale of the grains,” said Longhurst. “Food can be purchased close to where it’s needed in those countries, and that not only supports the local farmers, it also allows food that is more appropriate for the local diet of the people.”
Dave Meier, Saskatchewan regional coordinator for the CFGB, compared the auction to the Biblical ‘sermon on the mount’ miracle of the loaves and fishes, noting that the money raised at the local auction was multiplied several times by matching funds from the federal government.
“Today we are gathered to help feed thousands of people, not just for a day, but for many months at a time” said Meier.