WINNIPEG, Man. — “The best Christmas present ever!”
That’s how Eleanor Kendall of Marquette, Man. describes the new free house she is getting this year from Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS).
The organization, which repairs and rebuilds homes damaged or destroyed by natural disasters across North America, rebuilt Kendall’s house this fall after it was destroyed by fire on March 24, this year.
“I smelled smoke in the house,” says Kendall, 71, recalling that traumatic day.“I opened the door to the back porch and saw the flames just as my daughter came running up yelling ‘mom—get out!” They called the fire department, but it couldn’t be saved. The house was completely destroyed. “I lost everything,” says Kendall, a widow, fighting back tears. “I didn’t even have any clothes.”
With help from the Red Cross, she was able to buy new clothes and other items. With no place to live, she moved in with her daughter and son-in-law, whose house is also on the rural property. But what next? Lacking insurance—she had been unable to afford it while waiting for benefit claims to be processed following her husband’s death in 2017—rebuilding her house was not an option. At the same time, the municipality called and ordered her to clean up the debris from her destroyed house.
“I didn’t have the money for that,” she says. “I didn’t know what I was going to do.” Then a stranger showed up at her house one day, offering to clean up the debris and build her a new house. “At first I thought it was a scam,” says Kendall. “Who offers that kind of help for free? Especially a new house? I was ready to call the police.”
That stranger was Denis Keating, a member of MDS’s Manitoba chapter. The owner of a local plumbing and heating company had been contacted by the Red Cross and told about Kendall’s plight. “I told her I got her name from the Red Cross,” says Keating. “They told me she needed help.” Keating and his son cleaned up the debris and then started talking to her about the new home.
“He showed me blueprints,” Kendall says. “I told him I couldn’t afford it. I said I could cash in my RRSP and get a loan for the rest. He told me not to worry, that MDS would take care of it. I couldn’t’ believe it.” Construction of her new house started in September; she will move in just before Christmas.
For Keating, helping Kendall is just a matter of doing his “Christian duty.” At the same time, he enjoys being able to “use the gifts God gave me to do something tangible to help others.” Plus, there’s nothing like “seeing someone’s life change from hopelessness to hope,” he says. “When you have nothing going for you, and then someone shows up to help, your whole life changes.”
Altogether, about 45 volunteers from Mennonite and other churches in Manitoba worked on Kendall’s house. The total cost for materials will be about $75,000, which is being raised by MDS.
For Kendall, it’s overwhelming. “It’s the best Christmas present,” she says. “I cry every time I think of it.”
Story provided by Mennonite Disaster Services.