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A photo of a food pantry worker handing box of food to a client.A photo of a food pantry worker handing box of food to a client.

As the only restaurant in the small town of Osler, Saskatchewan, the Osler Restaurant is a central gathering space for meetings, meals, coffee and conversation for the community—including members of the Osler Mennonite Church, located right across the street.

When the pandemic hit, and people stopped eating out, the restaurant suffered. Times were hard for owners Kollol and Sheba Dev.

“Business was very, very dead,” said Kollol, who has owned the restaurant for 12 years together with his wife. “We closed down for three months.”

With support from the Canadian government, and through takeout orders, the couple was just scraping by. Seeing their plight, church members wanted to help.

“We have gotten to know Kollol and Sheba well over the years, and their family has a place in the hearts of those at our church,” said church member Alex Thiessen of the couple, originally from Bangladesh. “We wanted to provide support to them during this difficult time.”

When they heard about the MDS Canada Spirit of MDS Fund, designed to help congregations and ministries respond to pandemic-related needs in their communities, the church applied and received a grant to help the couple.

“Folks at our church are very familiar with MDS and many have served on MDS trips,” said Thiessen. “We were grateful that MDS provided an opportunity to serve the Osler community during this time and in this way.”

The support for the Devs was just one of 43 grants worth $104,900 provided to congregations and ministries across Canada in March and April by the Spirit of MDS Fund.

Since its creation in 2020, the Fund has provided a total of 81 grants worth $206,900 to help groups respond to needs in their communities due to the pandemic.

Another recipient was Eden Mennonite Church in Chilliwack, B.C., which used its grant to support isolated seniors.

“Early in the pandemic we identified ways we could respond to our community in the spirit of love and empathy,” said Lead Pastor Aaron Roorda.

One need that rose to the top was to support seniors through the Chilliwack & District Seniors Resources Society. The church partners with the society to provide food hampers for seniors, with members serving as delivery drivers.

The drivers not only provide food, but “offer themselves as a vital social connection for these seniors once per week,” said Roorda.

Along with delivering food, the church also provides fresh eggs for the hampers, using money from the Spirit of MDS Fund to buy them.

“The funds MDS Canada provided have been vital in helping to ensure that vulnerable seniors in our community are supported with the most basic needs,” said Roorda, adding the money from MDS Canada enabled them to purchase over 12,000 eggs.

“We are very grateful for your generous support as we work to respond to our community in the love and compassion of Christ,” he said.

In Calgary, Alberta, the Foothills Mennonite Church used a grant to keep open its guest house for people coming to the city for health-related matters, or to be near a loved one in the hospital.

Due to the pandemic, the church had to limit the number of people who could use the guest house. This affected revenue significantly.

Support from MDS Canada was “helpful in off-setting operating costs,” said Darrel Heidebrecht, Chair of the guest house committee.

“More importantly, being able to keep the house operating, even in a limited capacity, makes a big difference in the lives of those who are able to stay with us,” he added.

The Living World Community Ministry in Winnipeg, a Mennonite Brethren congregation, serves inner city residents in that community.

They used money from the grant to put a donated van on the road to help with food pickups and deliveries for their food bank, which provides food to around 40 families a week.

“The majority of our clients require delivery and so this van has been a great help for our volunteers,” said Senior Ministry Director Steven Klassen. “Our Food Bank is able to operate because of donations like this.”

For Ross Penner, Director of Operations for MDS Canada, stories like these show the importance of coming alongside churches during the pandemic.

“It’s a privilege to partner with them to serve others, especially since MDS Canada can’t do its usual service due to COVID-19,” he said. “It’s a way for us to respond to needs through them.”

John Longhurst, MDS Canada Communications Coordinator

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