Stitching for a reason

Matt Kelly
Ninety quilters hand-stitched quilts during two days of work at the Benton Firehouse last week.

On a cold day in February, 90 women in bonnets and simple dresses gathered at the Benton Firehouse to lend their helping hands to some important work: assembling the quilts for this year’s Haiti Benefit Auction.

“We expect to get five or six done today with this amount of ladies. Tomorrow we hope to have eight completed,” says Martha Burkholder. She is moving among the tables of Mennonite women and helping out with whatever needs arise. Her husband, Noah, is on the auction’s executive board. “We only have two days, so we’ll take the quilts to our houses and invite more ladies to come over. There’s many, many hours involved.”

It’s a busy time for the ladies who have volunteered and donated all the effort, skills and materials needed to make these quilts. But there is constant, happy chatter throughout the firehouse. “It’s a very nice relaxing thing to do,” says Martha.

“It’s quite an art,” says Eli Riehl, a member of the executive board. “Imagine what it would it would cost to do this on an hourly basis for the quilting?”

Martha shows off a quilt that’s been assembled from white blocks with simple flowers of red and green stitches, connected with purple-checkered sashing.

Martha’s daughter-in-law spent two years preparing these blocks. Similar effort has been put into the other seven quilts, now laid out on tables and waiting to be finished.

“There’s lots and lots of hours of hand cutting and sewing,” says Martha. But it’s work the volunteers are happy to do.

The twelfth annual Haiti Benefit Auction will be held at the Yates County Fairgrounds this coming June. Furniture, tools, trees, shrubs, flowers, and – of course – the quilts will all be sold to raise funds to support fifteen missions doing humanitarian work in Haiti. This year’s auction will also include three pole barns and a two-seater buggy and horse.

In 2015, the auction brought in approximately $350,000. All of the money from the auction goes directly to the missions on the ground in Haiti.

“As an organization, we know to the dollar where our funds are going and what they are used for,” says Riehl. Two years ago, he was one of several delegates who traveled to Haiti to see the work being done: schools, clinics, churches, housing, food programs, teacher and leadership training programs. “The list goes on and on.”

But there is one type of project that is of particular interest to the local New York board.

“Healthy water, clean water is one thing that is most important right now,” says Riehl. “There’s a lot of wells being drilled. We’ve found that by getting clean water, it’s made a difference in the health of the local communities.”

The auction here in New York is part of a larger network of churches, groups and individuals all raising money through similar events to support the work being done in Haiti. The local board is made up of eleven positions filled by individuals from different Mennonite churches, Amish churches, and independent organizations.

“The auction is not just one person’s idea,” says Riehl. “It’s lots of hands working.”

Lots of hands – lots of women and men – working to make good things happen for those in need.

For more information about this year’s Haiti Benefit Auction, visit or contact Eli Riehl at 315-521-6495.