MCC photo/Sophia Bezoplenko

Thanks to generous volunteers, MCC was able to distribute more than 200 handmade masks to newcomer families in Winnipeg and area. 

MCC is responding to the needs of vulnerable people impacted by COVID-19 around the world, and is working throughout Manitoba by walking alongside people in poverty, resettled refugees and people impacted by domestic abuse.

Emergency soup kitchen at Portage MCC Thrift Shop

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 situation is more than a global health pandemic. The financial insecurity has caused vulnerable people to be more at risk by the compounding difficulties of unemployment, stay home orders and inadequate safe access to food.

In Portage la Prairie, the local soup kitchen was forced to close during the pandemic due to a lack of volunteers, among other concerns such as how to safely distribute food.

In an effort to keep meeting the needs of vulnerable people in the community, a new coalition was formed including the Portage la Prairie Community Revitalization Corporation (PCRC), Portage MCC Thrift Shop, Portage la Prairie Family Resource Centre, and other community partners, in order to open an Emergency Soup Kitchen on May 4.

Volunteers from the Portage la Prairie MCC Thrift Shop, Mary Enns (left), Eslie Hamm (middle) and Rita Klassen (right) assemble cutlery kits for food distribution as part of an emergency soup kitchen set up in Portage la Prairie in May. Hamm is the longest-serving volunteer at the local thrift shop with over 36 years of service.MCC photo/Kevin Hamm

MCC Thrift shops in Winnipeg partner with Resource Assistance for Youth (RAY)

In Winnipeg, four MCC Thrift shops donated gently-used furniture to Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY) for transitional housing units where youth experiencing homelessness could find shelter during the global pandemic.

“The pandemic has proven what we’ve known for a long time: that youth experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable in times of crisis. It’s also proven the generosity of our community and their willingness to step-up,” says Kelly Holmes, Executive Director of RaY. “MCC Thrift’s donation of furniture to help us set-up new transitional housing units is a perfect example of this. This furniture allows us to get vulnerable youth off the street and gives them a place where they can be safe. Thank you to MCC for their support during these challenging times.”   

File photo of furniture at Kildonan MCC Thrift shop in Winnipeg, Manitoba.MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky

Non-medical masks for newcomer families

For refugee families new to Canada, transitioning to a new city and culture is challenging. Add in a global health pandemic and that challenge becomes more complicated.

Shortly after the World Health Organization announced the health crisis, Maysoun Darweesh, MCC’s migration and resettlement coordinator, reached out to newcomer families in Manitoba. Darweesh made sure the families had the correct information about COVID-19 and ensured they had what they needed to access health services. 

Darweesh said, “It was important for us to connect with these families because we wanted them to know that we are feeling for them during COVID-19, and we are around to support them.”

“It was amazing to share the love of our volunteers with resettled refugees as a gesture of unity and to send an encouraging message that we are all together in this,” she said.

(In no particular order) Hannan Hamrasho, Salwa Ibrahim, Rami Hamrasho, Maya Hamrasho, Jwana Hamrasho and Rayan Hamrasho hold up the handmade masks they received through MCC Manitoba.MCC photo/Maysoun Darweesh

This outreach included providing families with masks handmade by volunteers through MCC. Sophia Bezoplenko, MCC’s material resources coordinator, put out the call for volunteers to sew handmade masks. Ready with fabric, elastic and sewing patterns, it only took one week for volunteers to sew more than 120 masks for newcomer families in Winnipeg and the surrounding area. That number has since grown to include more than 200 masks, some of which were distributed through a partnership with Mosaic Newcomer Family Resource Network.

Volunteers dropped the masks off at a safe donation location where they were picked up by Bezoplenko and then redistributed to newcomer families in the area.

“I knew our generous and compassionate volunteers would want to help meet local needs for masks,” said Bezoplenko. “I felt it was important for MCC to provide support to newcomers because many were still working in essential services in our communities. Starting over in a new country comes with many challenges, and we wanted newcomers to know that MCC cared about the wellbeing of their families over the long term.”

Hope when home isn’t safe

For some, staying home isn't a safe place to be. Jaymie Friesen, MCC Manitoba's abuse response and prevention coordinator, speaks about how COVID-19 and staying home play out when home isn't safe from abuse. 

Click here to listen to the full interview with Friesen.