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These quilts provide more than decorative warmth

Dump out your piggybank and start counting because the annual Elmira Quilt Auction is back for its 43rd year with hundreds of quilts, baked treats, furniture and used goods up for sale.

With the event moving from the Riverdale Poultry Express to the Elmira Produce Auction Cooperative, quilters have been busy all year preparing a range of items to sell. The funds raised will go to Elmira District Community Living, as its largest fundraiser.

EDCL finance officer Gail Bartlett says they start the day at 8 a.m. with some silent and live auctions before getting to the main event – the quilts – at noon. They’ll be auctioning off items like farm equipment, used household gifts, trees, and shrubs.

Local craftsmen donate new wood furniture, which gets auctioned off at 11 a.m. Before they start the quilt auction a few people who EDCL supports will give a speech and the board president will describe what their organization does and what the money will be going towards.

“Then we start with the quilts. We have some real beauties this year. It’s quilts, it’s wall hangings, there are braided rugs, hooked rugs, all the crafts of the local area, the traditional crafts of really the Mennonite community. We divide the quilts into seven lots and we have seven auctioneers who all donate their time. Almost everything with the auction is donated,” Bartlett said.

In the seven lots, there’s one quilt per lot that’s the feature item, meaning it’s extra special. There are also giant pies auctioned off, which can be a lot of fun with families competing against each other. And you can’t forget the gigantic bake sale, with mostly home baked treats and some produce for sale, all donated.

The event runs until 3:30 or 4 p.m. – whenever they run out of quilts to sell.

“It’s like a fall fair atmosphere almost, except with an auction as a background,” Bartlett said.

They’re moving the event to EPAC after more than a decade at Riverdale because they’ll be able to have everything under one roof. In previous years they had to set up the kitchen under the Kiwanis’ tent outside and it can be cold this time of year.

Some 130 quilts and quilted items will be up for sale to the highest bidder at the quilt auction. The auction is moving to the Elmira Produce Auction Cooperative this year.[File Photo]
Some 130 quilts and quilted items will be up for sale to the highest bidder at the quilt auction. The auction is moving to the Elmira Produce Auction Cooperative this year. [File Photo]
“Riverdale was so good to us. They would spend the Thursday before the auction scrubbing down and cleaning the building because it’s a big truck repair shop. You can imagine what it would look like. Their employees would spend Thursday cleaning it and then they’d give their employees Friday off so we could set up for the auction. They’ve been tremendously good to us.  I think it takes a bit of pressure off us and it’s nice being all under one roof,” Bartlett said.

They expect to have about 130 items in the quilt auction. Some of the quilters have probably started already for next year’s auction, she says.

The feature quilt is determined by the auction committee, a group of 17 volunteers. Those quilts typically catch a higher price. Some 100 volunteers are involved in making the auction come to fruition. The committee looks at the workmanship that went into the quilts and decides which quilt to feature for each lot.

“I know this year I’ve already been told we have some exceptionally beautiful quilts,” Bartlett said.

She says many of them don’t go for market value. A wall hanging or a crib quilt could be sold for as low as $50. A queen size quilt is anywhere from $500 to $1,000. The most expensive quilt sold last year was in the neighborhood of $1,500.

They netted $77,000 last year, with a gross of $87,000. She said that’s typically what they bring in, at least $70,000 after expenses.

“If you look at what that purchases for our community living, that’s a wheelchair van plus $10,000. The government does not support us in terms of purchasing vans and things like that. That’s the type of thing that the association fundraising arm purchases. That’s why the auction’s so important to us because we have quite a fleet of vans and for example we just put up an addition at one of our oldest group homes. That’s the sort of thing that the fundraising arm is able to do for us,” Bartlett said.

She says this year’s funds raised will go toward the purchase of a new van and into long-term fundraising. Their fleet of vans is quite old now and they’ll need a few more vans over the next couple years.

The auction is EDCL’s biggest fundraiser, and a crucial part of their operations. They’re also one of the main beneficiaries of the Maple Syrup Festival.

“It’s a community thing. We want to be an integral part of the Elmira community. We’re participating in a huge community event that gathers people together. That keeps Elmira District Community Living kind of front of mind as well,” Bartlett said.

The Elmira Quilt Auction runs Oct. 31 at the Elmira Produce Auction Cooperative from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., or when they run out of quilts to auction off.

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