If you had taken a stroll through Kitchener’s Victoria Park on a beautiful evening in late June, you might have seen a curious sight: two quilt frames with beautiful comforters stretched out over them, and two groups of people of all ages and ethnicities happily chatting and working away.
‘Knotting in the Park’ was an idea that evolved from a group of quilting enthusiasts at Hawksville Mennonite Church two years ago. “We had never done it before,” recalls Kathy Bauman, “But we thought, well, we’ll try it!”
Victoria Park is the core of a very ethnically diverse community in Kitchener and many of those that wandered over to check out the quilts were first generation Canadians. Throughout the evening Kathy began to hear stories from people passing by:
“My grandmother used to do this back in the Ukraine…”
“I was a tailor before I came to Canada…”
It was an appropriate connection opportunity, given that comforters have long been a uniquely Mennonite aspect of relief shared in many corners of the world over many years. But these hand-made blankets are just one piece of a much larger picture of relief at MCC.
Kathy and her group were ready with MCC brochures and fresh-picked strawberries to engage the curious. MCC photo/Ken Ogasawara
Last year MCC shipped over 51,000 blankets and nearly 17,000 relief kits to conflict zones around the world, assisting over 94,500 people in the process. And this year, MCC Ontario (MCCO) is aiming to send four shipping containers overseas to help those in urgent need. The shopping list for just a single shipment scheduled for Jordan, to assist those displaced by the Syrian war, includes:
- 8,000 bath towels
- 8,000 tooth brushes
- 8,000 bars of soap
- 4,000 wide tooth combs
- And thousands more bandages, nail clippers, shampoo, laundry soap and sanitary pads, as well as an additional $2,000 to purchase toothpaste.
These countless items delivered over decades have become more than the sum of their parts. These “material resources” are generously donated, lovingly assembled and prayerfully sent by thousands of kind-hearted, compassionate people. This is the heart of the MCC Material Resources program.
In addition to ‘Knotting in the Park,’ Kathy and her husband Ray both volunteer a full day every week at the MCCO warehouse in Kitchener. She designs, assembles, and teaches the art of quilting, while he helps organize and load relief materials. Though they both knew of MCC growing up – Ray says, “I was raised with MCC in my blood” – a turning point for them was an unforgettable trip to Honduras in 2000, in the wake of Hurricane Mitch. “The experience was a real eye-opener,” says Kathy. At the time, it was the second-deadliest hurricane in recorded history with over 7,000 Hondurans killed and tens of thousands of homes wiped out by winds, flooding and landslides. MCC’s immediate response included 10,000 relief kits and over 60 tons of rice, beans and corn, though deep recovery work would take many years and some areas are still affected.
Now, years later, Kathy and Ray along with dozens more at 50 Kent, and hundreds more around the province, are committed to the work of MCC. While many tons of donated items go out to the world from the warehouse, on any given day the world also comes back to MCC in the form of volunteers.
Ray Bauman loads a container full of relief kits for a container that shipped in March 2018. MCC photo/Ken Ogasawara
Kathy shared about a Columbian family who came to volunteer with their two adult sons whose wives remained in Columbia. When she asked them if they would like to learn how to sew, they enthusiastically agreed – they wanted to show their wives how they make blankets in Canada. “So these two grown men were side-by-side [at the sewing machines], giggling like little boys,” recalls Kathy with a laugh. “And they each made a comforter! They had a lot of help along the way, but they were excited.”
A key part of MCC’s mission, taken up with passion by Kathy and thousands of quilters across North America, is to maintain high quality control of the blankets they produce. Kathy recalled a story told by Rick Cober Bauman, MCC Canada Executive Director, of a time when people displaced by the civil war in Sudan were issued relief blankets from the U.N. The next day, more blankets were distributed, this time from MCC. They were colourful, home made, and warm. On the third day, recipients from day one came back and asked if they could trade their U.N. blankets in for “Mennonites.”
“That’s part of my push to make really nice comforters,” says Kathy. “If it’s nice enough for me to make for my daughter, then it’s nice enough to send to somebody overseas. It’s not just something to cover yourself up with – it’s a gift of love.”
A woman opens a blanket distributed by MCC partners for the most vulnerable internally displaced people and members of the host community in and around Aleppo, Syria in January 2018. Photo courtesy of FMEEC
*We are in urgent need of relief kit supplies. We have postponed our July and August shipments due to a lack of supplies. Please visit https://mcccanada.ca/get-involved/kits/relief for details, or donate online and designate your gift to “MCC Ontario Material Resources.”