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Nova Scotia MLA Fred Tilley (second from left) presents a flag of Nova Scotia to Ross Penner, MDS Canada Executive Director; Ike Epp, Project Director; and Roman Heuft, Cape Breton Response Coordinator.

For Amanda McDougall-Merrill, Mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, volunteers with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Canada did more than repair homes damaged by Hurricane Fiona in Cape Breton.

“You brought hope and love to the community,” she told about 90 people gathered August 24 at the Sydney River United Protestant Church for a closing celebration of MDS’s involvement in the region.

After the storm, which struck on September 24, 2022, people “felt alone and hopeless,” she said.

“You did more than build walls and fix houses. You brought love here,” she said. “There are no words that have the capacity to show how grateful we are.”

McDougall-Merrill presented a plaque to MDS on behalf of herself and the Council that expressed appreciation to the hundreds of volunteers from across Canada who came to “rebuild homes and restore hope.”

Her words were echoed by Fred Tilley, Member of the Nova Scotia Assembly for Northside-Westmount, one of the areas where MDS volunteers served.

“You gave hope to our community when there was none,” he said, presenting a flag of Nova Scotia to representatives from MDS.

“You now are in the hearts of thousands of Cape Bretoners,” he added.

Starting in fall, 2022, right after the storm when volunteers came to do tree clean-up and roof repairs, then from March to August this year, a total of 458 volunteers from across Canada provided over 32,000 hours of service for 272 families and community organizations.

This included repairs to 44 houses, 28 new roofs or roof repairs and 179 tree-cutting and clean up jobs.

In his remarks, Dana Feltmate, pastor of the United Protestant Church—which hosted the MDS base camp in July and August—said that being home to the volunteers gave the church “great street cred . . . our members beamed with pride because of hosting MDS volunteers.”

Noting that research has shown that doing good for others produces happiness and a sense of well-being by releasing endorphins in the brain, he went on to say that apparently the same thing happens when people see someone doing good for others.

“People in Cape Breton saw what you were doing and we all felt better,” he said. “Thanks for that.”

Lynne McCarron is Executive Director of the United Way of Cape Breton, MDS Canada’s partner in the region.

Bailey Karrell (right) of the United Way of Cape Breton presents a gift to volunteer Hannah Cober of Kitchener at the August 24 closing celebration for MDS’s work in Cape Breton. Looking on are Abe and Norma Wiebe from Winkler, Manitoba.

“I didn’t know where to go after the storm hit, I didn’t know where to turn,” she said. “I don’t know what we would have done without MDS. We were lucky to have you in our community.”

Brian Williamson, representing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, affirmed MDS’s goal of being the “hands and feet of Jesus.”

“I love that vision,” he said, noting the LDS church was pleased to provide $100,000 to MDS for its response in Cape Breton.

“We were delighted to assist in this way, a small way to help to get people back home,” he said.

In his comments, Nova Scotia Response Coordinator Roman Heuft said “many deserve thanks for what has been accomplished here, but most of all God. MDS was here for his glory, not our own.”

He went on to express appreciation to the volunteers; to the United Way of Cape Breton; to Camp Bretondean, where MDS had its home base in 2022 and from March to June, this year; to the United Protestant Church of Sydney River; to local building inspectors who “streamlined the building permit process;” to Cameron’s Building Supplies, where MDS bought most of its materials; to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and to Air Canada for offering discount airfares to Cape Breton.

He also thanked his wife Charlene back in B.C. who “always encouraged me to use my abilities to serve our Lord.”

In closing, he quoted MDS volunteer Peter Thiessen, who served as a project director in Grand Forks, B.C. in 2019.

“MDS is here for a season,” Heuft said, speaking to people who live in the region. “Our season is now over. We pass the baton to you to carry on the work of helping those in need.”

John Longhurst, MDS Canada Communications

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