WINNIPEG, Man. — Nine Mennonite Brethren congregations are among the first 21 churches that have received grants from the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Canada Spirit of MDS Fund.
Since its launch in late-April, the Fund has made grants totaling $23,000 to churches and ministries in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.
The Fund was created by MDS Canada in April to help Canadian churches respond to people in their communities facing hardship due to the virus.
“MDS normally responds to natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, fires, and earthquakes,” says Ross Penner, Director of Operations for MDS Canada. “But the pandemic is a disaster for many people in Canada. Since we aren’t able to respond in the usual way, we want to do it through local congregations that are on the front lines of responding to needs.”
Southridge Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in St. Catharines, Ont., will use the funds to support 80 families in its Welland, Ont. location who are unable to feed their children due to lack of access to the usual meal-support programs. “We are running porch drop-off meals for them,” said pastor Nate Dirks, noting the families receive five portions of 10 meals every two weeks. “During the non-COVID-19 time we ran this as a ‘collective kitchen’ to provide meals in a social setting, teaching cooking and building relationships. Now, we do this as a porch drop-off, along with one-on-one social connections online which our congregations have established with each family.”
The Northend Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in St. Catharines, Ont., will use its grant to support a member who is sewing masks to give away to low income people, first responders, care home workers and others in that city. The church will also use the funds to distribute food to 40 families affected by the pandemic.
The Fort Garry Mennonite Brethren Church in Winnipeg will use the funds as it works in conjunction with a local ministry to assist people who need food due to their inability to work during the pandemic. Since the program started in March, over 3,700 meals have been distributed. They also will use the money to support refugee family the church sponsored. “We desire to continue to support the ministry and our local partners as long as funds and donations become available,” said church member Ken Penner. “We desire to support our community in many ways.”
River East Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Winnipeg, will use the funds to provide grocery hampers for a local school breakfast program it supports, and for a local agency that helps homeless youth. “We will use the funds to double our donation to the breakfast club, and to buy fresh food for hampers for the youth agency,” said church member Trish Dyck.
One88 Community Church, a Mennonite Brethren church in downtown Winnipeg that runs a drop-in for people who are experiencing homelessness, struggling with addictions or living in poverty, will use the funds to provide food hampers for people who have a place to live “yet their lives are quite fragile,” said campus pastor Dave Ens. “Many of the services they rely are closed right now.” The church will also use the money to help them pay for a cleaning company “to keep our drop-in as sanitized as possible,” he added.
The Living Word Temple, a Mennonite Brethren congregation serving people in Winnipeg’s inner city, will use the funds to provide food for those who come to its two locations for daily needs. This includes its lunch program, which happens at one of the locations twice a week. “The need for emergency food in the north end of Winnipeg has always been there,” said Living Word pastor Paul Winter. But due to the pandemic, need for food in the area has quadrupled, he added, while supplies from local food banks have fallen.
Dalhousie Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Calgary, will use the funds to help Camp Evergreen, a Mennonite Brethren camp in the province, make and provide meals for families in Alberta affected by the pandemic. It will also be used for its own benevolent fund, which is responding to higher than usual needs due to job losses because of the virus.
The Sardis, B.C. Community Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation, will use the funds to support its Doorway ministry that helps single mothers in the community. “There has been an increased need for practical support, such as groceries and for families suffering loss of income,” said church member Vic Janzen.
The South Langley, B.C. Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation, will use the funds to provide groceries for people who have lost income due to the pandemic. “We have a COVID care team of volunteers who go shopping and drop off supplies or pay rent as needed,” said church member Darrel Schmidt. “Our church wants to help as best we can.”
The Pleasant Valley Evangelical Mennonite Church in Rosenort, Man. will use the funds to build a wheelchair ramp for a family where the mother has Parkinson’s disease. During the pandemic, said pastor Darren Plett, the woman’s husband had to take time off work because a co-worker tested positive for COVID-19. During that time, his wife also fell and broke her hip, requiring him to spend more time away from the job.
The Edmonton South Sudanese Mennonite Church, part of Mennonite Church Canada, will use the funds to help congregants affected by the pandemic. This includes those who have been laid off and a disabled person struggling to make ends meet during this time.
Sterling Mennonite Fellowship, a Mennonite Church Canada congregation in Winnipeg, will use the funds to provide an honorarium for a student who can’t find work due to the pandemic. The student will fill a need for increased technology services as the church has moved to an on-line format for its worship services, specifically with pre-recording services and facilitating Zoom meetings.
The Goshen Mennonite Church, a Mennonite Church Canada church in Ottawa which worships in Swahili, will use its grant to assist members of the congregation impacted by the pandemic. “Many of them are newcomers who are facing hardships in this current situation,” said pastor Francois Machichi, noting they will use the funds to assist with food, rent and other assistance.
The Toronto Chinese Mennonite Church, a Mennonite Church Canada congregation, will use the funds to buy personal protective equipment for ministries helping people who are homeless and poor, along with long-term care facilities. “Front line workers at seniors residences, long term care facilities, shelters, and social service organizations are risking their own lives in order to help the vulnerable populations in our society,” said church member Sandy Yuen.
The Windsor, Ont. Mennonite Fellowship, a Mennonite Church Canada congregation, will use the grant for its benevolent fund. “We hope to be a willing and able congregation to assist our neighbours and members,” said church member Lindy Fazekas.
First Mennonite Church in Kitchener, Ont., a Mennonite Church Canada congregation, will use the funds for rent assistance for a family which lost employment due to the pandemic. “As a congregation we share food and cash with them on a bi-monthly basis during the COVID-19 isolation,” said pastor Nancy Brubaker. “The MDS funds will provide much needed support, as rent comes due and their savings are at an end.”
The Hochma Mennonite Church in Montreal is a Mennonite Church Canada congregation that has started a shelter for homeless people to gather in “during this difficult period,” said pastor Michel Monette. It will use the funds to buy a TV for the shelter, and for food, coffee and other furniture. In 2019 MDS volunteers helped with renovations at the church so it could offer shelter to homeless people in the community.
Centre Bethésda Mennonite De Québec, a Mennonite Church Canada congregation in Quebec City, will use the funds to provide food for newcomers and refugees facing challenges due to COVID-19. “The funds will be used to buy food that will be distributed to a number of vulnerable people by delivering it to their homes,” said church member Charles Tabena.
The Gospel Mission Church in Winkler, Man., part of the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference, will use the funds to buy cleaning supplies for food hampers provided by a local food bank. “The food bank takes care of food needs, but suggested we make hampers of mainly cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, toilet cleaner, paper towels, etc.,” said assistant pastor Brenton Friesen.
In Grand Forks, B.C., the River Valley Community Church, a Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada congregation, will use the funds to gather cords of firewood for people who use it to heat their homes in winter. “The fund will be used to purchase equipment, fuel and oil and other expenses related to cutting and delivering the firewood,” said pastor Gabe Warriner, noting the wood will be given to those who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and to seniors and widows. The River Valley church partnered with MDS in 2019 in responding to flooding in that community in 2018.
The Calgary Pregnancy Care Centre, a non-denominational organization that assists women facing an unexpected pregnancy, will use the funds to provide meals for low income single mothers. “Low income single mothers with new babies are a vulnerable population during the pandemic,” said Cliff Wiebe, a community development specialist at the Centre. “They are not able to get out as easily to access the food they need.”
More information about the Fund, and an application form, can be found at on the MDS website at https://mds.mennonite.net/mds-canada-launches-fund-to-help-canadian-congregations-respond-to-covid-19/