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BLOOMINGTON — Ruthie Roth has been involved with the Illinois Mennonite Relief Sale since it began in 1959 and she'll be there again when the 61st annual sale takes center stage Friday through Sunday at the Interstate Center on Bloomington's west side.

“I thank God for the opportunity to be a small part of it,” Roth said from her home in Morton in Tazewell County

John Roth, the uncle of her late husband, Don, founded the sale.

“He heard about a relief sale in Pennsylvania and said, 'I think we can do it here,'” Ruthie Roth recalled.

The first sale took place in the Congerville Angus Barn and made $5,000, she recalled.

Since then, the 60 Illinois events have had a total net sales of $8 million.

Eighty percent of the proceeds go to the Mennonite Central Committee, based in Akron, Pa., which serves people in 57 countries.

The other 20 percent stays in Central Illinois, helping people through such organizations as the Salvation Army and Home Sweet Home Ministries, said Roth.

Roth said she likes everything about the sale — and there is a lot to like.

For some, the food is a highlight.

The auction is famous for its quilts, Amish furniture, tools, antiques and other items. This year's special furniture from Arthur includes a large dining room set, three-piece bedroom suite, lounge chair, large rocker and lawn furniture.

Many crafts are for sale along with a variety of meats at the Butcher Shoppe and special treats at the Dutch Market.

Ten Thousand Villages sells crafts from developing world artisans.

Booths open at 5:30 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. Saturday.

“For a lot of people, it's almost like a reunion,” said Jess Slager, of Hopedale, who has been involved with the sale for 52 years. “A lot of people come together and enjoy the supper and eat together.”

The sale starts at 4:30 p.m. Friday with a barbecued chicken and fish fillet dinners.

Saturday the main feature is all-you-can-eat pancakes and grilled sausage from 6 to 11 a.m.

On both days, pork chop and rib-eye sandwiches will be available, as well as barbecues and hot dogs.

The auction begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday, with the quilt auction starting at 7:45 p.m. The auction ends at 9 p.m.

Saturday's Grand Auction begins at 8:30 a.m. and continues until sold out. Quilts will be auctioned from 9 to 9:45 a.m. and again from 11 to 11:45 a.m. The children's auction is at 10:15 a.m.

This year's Sale Board quilt, stitched by an Amish woman in Pennsylvania, is a queen-size quilt with a bargello flame pattern in shades of purple.

Slager's involvement with the sale started while he was in college, making sausage and serving pancakes.

“I've done just about everything,” said Slager, one of the sale coordinators.

“An anonymous gentleman donated the rent for the Interstate Center. That saved us $15,000,” he said.

His favorite thing about the sale is the people.

About 1,400 volunteers from more than 30 churches play a part in the sale, said Slager, who has been in charge of scheduling volunteers. That's become more challenging as people have increased commitments for children's activities and other events, but Slager said he works around their availability.

The rewarding thing for Slager is “it feeds a lot of hungry people around the world that you'll never meet. … Not many people are as blessed as we are.”

The lines for meals can seem long, but he said, “We try to keep it organized and get people through the line quick.”

And, parking and admission are free.

Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota

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Education Reporter

Education Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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