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The food pantry at the Westview Christian Fellowship in St. Catharines, Ont., one of the recipients of a 2021 Spirit of MDS Fund grant.

One month after its launch on February 1, the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Canada Spirit of MDS Fund approved $54,900 CDN in grants for 24 Canadian congregations and church-related organizations.

Ten of the recipients are part of Mennonite Church Canada, seven are Mennonite Brethren churches, and there is one each from the Evangelical Mennonite Conference, Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference and Be In Christ Canada. Four other organizations or ministries also received funding.

One of the recipients is the Bethesda Mennonite Centre of Quebec, a Mennonite Church Canada congregation that will use its grant to help members who need assistance with groceries and medications.

“Having this fund will allow our church to assist our members financially for food and medications not covered by Medicare,” said pastor Charles Tabena.

The Living Word Temple, a Mennonite Brethren congregation that serves mostly First Nations people in Winnipeg, will use its grant to meet emergency food needs, winter clothing, toiletries and bus tickets.

“The funds will be put to use to help our daily distribution of these items,” said senior ministry director Steve Klassen.

“We have many people come to the church and ask for food, lunches, clothing and toiletries each day we are open. We also offer prayer and provide it whenever possible.”

At Westview Christian Fellowship, a Mennonite Church Canada congregation in St. Catharines, Ont., the money will be used to provide food for low income and homeless people.

“Since COVID-19, our numbers have more than tripled, “said Jane Lavaca, Executive Director of the church’s Centre for Women.

“We are seeing people we have never seen before. And we are seeing more homeless people than ever before, asking for food, blankets, and warming kits.”

In Alberta, the Abbeydale Christian Fellowship, an Evangelical Mennonite Conference church in Calgary, will use money from the Fund to provide food for local families.

“Currently we are serving up to 38 families and they are not always the same families each week,” said Community Cupboard Outreach Coordinator Geraldine Fair.

Because stores and restaurants are not able to donate as much food as before the pandemic, “we have had to cut back on the amount of food given out each week,” she added, noting they will use the money to buy eggs, tuna and other protein items.

St. Francis Table in Toronto, Ont. bills itself as a “restaurant for the poor.” Operated by the Roman Catholic Capuchin Franciscan Friars, with support from members of the Toronto Chinese Mennonite Church, it serves meals five days a week to street people, people with physical and mental issues, addicts, seniors on fixed income, refugees, the working poor and others.

“We want to ensure that food is available for our patrons in a safe environment,” said Father John Frampton of how the Fund will enable it to buy PPE, sanitizer and gloves, along with covering added costs due to having to buy takeout containers, bags, forks and knives.

For the Mennonite Japanese Christian Fellowship, a Mennonite Church Canada congregation in Surrey, B.C., the grant will allow it to help people who have “lost jobs, or had employment reduced because of the pandemic and money is now tight,” said pastor Gerald Neufeld.

“Some seekers connected with our church now struggle financially since they were not eligible for the special government pandemic support since their income was already too low.”

Many of those being reached by the church don’t know a lot about Mennonites, he added.

“If they could receive some help from MDS they could learn that Mennonites are more than just an organization looking for more people to join their churches. We believe in an active faith that shows practical care for others,” he said.

For Ross Penner, Director of Canadian Operations for MDS, hearing how the Fund is helping local churches and church-related organizations shows its importance at this time.

“Although we can’t do our regular service through volunteers due to COVID-19, we can serve those who need assistance through congregations and other groups on the front-lines of the pandemic, especially as needs continue to rise,” he said.

John Longhurst, MDS Canada Communications Coordinator 

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