“Wow, what well-organized parking!” is a review that few of us attending a big event will ever think to utter. But every year for the last 51 years, Paul Snyder has had the massive job of making sure thousands of cars are parked safely so that tens of thousands of people can enjoy the New Hamburg (Ont.) Relief Sale.
The New Hamburg Relief Sale is the largest of a number of sales that occur across Ontario to raise money for the relief, development, and peace work of Mennonite Central Committee, an international non-governmental organization. They feature quilt auctions (the highest bids go upwards of $40,000 or more), dozens of vendors serving home-made delicacies, activities for families and children, and much more.
Snyder started helping with parking in the very first New Hamburg Relief Sale in 1967 and remembers there was a steep learning curve. “The early years were utter bedlam. But you learn every year; there’s an easier way. [For example,] we used to have big “EXIT” signs, but nobody ever looked at them! So now we have volunteers at strategic spots to help people out.” Snyder was instrumental in creating the lay of the land as is stands today, which included working with town councillors to purchase additional land to accommodate all the cars.
Over the last number of years, Snyder has passed the torch to Mike Shantz, who started out as one of Snyder’s young volunteers at the tender age of 12. The volunteer crew today consists of up to 40 people from as young as 12 to veterans in their late seventies.
Over the years, both Shantz and Snyder have accumulated stories that border on myth. “I do believe there was one case where moving a parked car ahead a couple feet was enough to get it out of the way and, uh… we may or may not have picked it up and moved it by hand.”
Shantz reflected that it is often sharing the relief sale story with unexpected visitors that is the most rewarding. “Every year there’s somebody who gets caught in the vortex of traffic and ends up coming into the fairgrounds and they’ll say, ‘I was on my way to Stratford—what am I doing here?’ They see a bunch of people in bright orange vests, covered in dust, but smiling and waving them through. They see all these tents filled with delicious food and they’re trying to process what’s happening.”
Shantz takes great joy in explaining that these people are all volunteers; most costs are covered by fundraising beforehand so that funds raised at the relief sale will go toward relief, development, and peace work around the world. Since its inception, the New Hamburg Relief Sale has raised over $14 million for MCC.
Shantz recognizes that though it is often a dirty, thankless, and exhausting job, parking cars is also the first point of contact for visitors to the sale.
“I think it’s important that as volunteers, we carry out our duties . . . with a spirit of gratitude. And I would say wholeheartedly that everyone who is there has that frame of mind.”
The New Hamburg Relief Sale is held at the fairgrounds in New Hamburg, every year on the last weekend of May. Visit here for more details. See the 2017 dates for other MCC relief sales across Canada here.