MCC sponsor groups step up to help Syrian refugees

Private sponsorship groups through the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Saskatchewan are responding admirably to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Groups are coming forward to meet the increased demand for refugee placement. The MCC has been facilitating refugee sponsors since 1979, so this is nothing new for the relief organization.
“We have a long history of being involved in refugee sponsorship,” said Leona Lortie, communications associate with MCC in Saskatoon. “We used to do a good number of them annually but in the last couple of years it had really dropped off.”
These days they typically do about four to five sponsorships a year with different church or community groups. But with the Syrian refugee crisis, that number has really jumped up.
“So far, just since September, we’ve had over 20 groups come forward,” said Lortie. The actual number is somewhere between 20 and 25, depending on where the group is at in the actual process of being committed to sponsorship.
“It’s quite the increase and the community has responded really well and is very compassionate and wants to be involved. It’s really encouraging for us to see how Saskatoon and Saskatchewan have stepped up, and we’re just one of the organizations,” said Lortie.
Sponsorship involves a year-long commitment which begins by meeting the family at the airport. It extends to many practical elements of adjusting to life in Canada, from getting groceries, finding housing and home furnishings, access to language training, help with finances, navigating the health care system and working through children sometimes, to help parents get used to Canadian society.
With MCC, sponsorship consists of a church or community group of five individuals who commit to raise or pull together the funds. Each group also offers their refugee family friendship and emotional support. “While the legal sponsorship lasts a year, the relationships that are formed are often transforming and everlasting,” said Lortie. Throughout the stages of the sponsorship process, MCC provides the sponsors with training opportunities and support.
The number of refugees MCC is able to receive is limited only by the number of people that want to sponsor, according to Lortie. The Canadian government promised 10,000 refugees would be here by the end of 2015.
“Our numbers are included in those figures from the government. A lot of those numbers were actually private sponsorships. So then, it was just a matter of the groups and the sponsorships that are already set up, of finalizing them. We had already done a lot of the work and we just continue to do the work,” said Lortie.
Possibly the largest resettlement project undertaken by MCC to date was when 70,000 refugees from Southeast Asia were resettled here.
But MCC’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis is their largest-ever humanitarian effort. In Syria, Iraq and surrounding countries, MCC has 27 ongoing projects that deliver emergency relief.
Resettling refugees here helps ease the pressure of aid in these conflict-ridden areas. “We’re just really grateful for all the people that have committed to sponsor a family,” said Lortie.
MCC groups have not yet welcomed Syrian families, but they anticipate that this will happen soon.

Auction raises more than $3 million over 35 years for food grains bank

A steady rain didn’t deter the faithful from attending the 35th annual Canadian Food  Grains Bank auction at Walter Wiebe’s farm on Saturday, June 20
A steady rain didn’t deter the faithful from attending the 35th annual Canadian Food Grains Bank auction at Walter Wiebe’s farm on Saturday, June 20

Over the past 35 years, the annual auction at Walter Wiebe’s farm near Neuanlage has raised more than $3 million for the Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB), making it the longest-running and most generous project in the country for the humanitarian food aid agency.
“This year is a milestone, because it’s the 35th anniversary of the event,” said John Longhurst, Director of Fundraising and Communications for the Winnipeg-based CFGB. “It’s pretty amazing what this community has done. It started out with two local farm couples sitting around a table talking about holding a little auction to raise money for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to help feed hungry people. And now it’s by far the most successful project in the country. It raises between $100,000 and $120,000 every year for the food grains bank.”
In an interview at the event on Saturday morning, June 20, Longhurst said the “Osler auction” is a long-standing tradition that actually pre-dates the CFGB by three years.
“The CFGB started in 1983,” he said. “The folks who started this event began raising money for the MCC, and then later to the food grains bank for MCC’s work through our agency.”
Longhurst said the event is multi-generational. “Two area couples started it and then it was organized by their children and now the grandchildren are also involved,” he said.

A 35th anniversary Canadian Food Grains Bank cap is auctioned off in memory of the late Corney Doerksen
A 35th anniversary Canadian Food Grains Bank cap is auctioned off in memory of the late Corney Doerksen

As a steady rain drummed on the roof of the familiar red-and-white striped tent, the first item sold at the event by auctioneer Richard Mireau was a commemorative 35th anniversary CFGB cap in memory of the late Corney Doerksen, one of the founders of the event who passed away a few months ago. The cap, which was later donated to Corney’s widow, went for $500.
The MCC is one of 15 member agencies of the CFGB. Funds for specific MCC overseas aid projects are matched on a four-to-one basis by the federal government, boosting the amounts available to purchase locally-grown food for refugees in war-torn countries or victims of natural disasters in countries around the world. The CFGB has approximately 250 community projects across Canada.
Longhurst said a CFGB survey last year found that over 5,000 people, 800 churches and 1,300 businesses are actively involved in supporting these projects, many of which include the proceeds from crops grown on land donated by local farmers for the purpose.
He said when the CFGB first began, grain from local farmers was donated directly famine-stricken countries, but the policy was changed about 15 years ago
“It’s more efficient to donate the funds from the sale of the grains,” said Longhurst. “Food can be purchased close to where it’s needed in those countries, and that not only supports the local farmers, it also allows food that is more appropriate for the local diet of the people.”
Dave Meier, Saskatchewan regional coordinator for the CFGB, compared the auction to the Biblical ‘sermon on the mount’ miracle of the loaves and fishes, noting that the money raised at the local auction was multiplied several times by matching funds from the federal government.
“Today we are gathered to help feed thousands of people, not just for a day, but for many months at a time” said Meier.