Many of the volunteers who sew MCC comforters can only imagine the lives of the people who might receive the blankets they stitch. People who have fled their homes because of conflict or disaster. But Tina Schulz knows first-hand what it’s like to receive a handmade blanket in a time of need.
When Schulz was 14 years old, she, her three siblings and parents embarked on a journey that brought them to South America in 1946 and to Canada eight years later. Throughout these travels, Schulz carried three blankets her family received from MCC. They were given to Schulz’s family when they left Berlin with thousands of other refugees in one of three voyages arranged by MCC workers Peter and Elfrieda Dyck.
Through the 1940s, the Dycks found safe passage by train and foot for more than 3,000 Mennonite refugees through the Russian sector of Berlin to Bremerhaven, where a ship, the Volendam, was waiting.
“I don’t know how to describe it, because we didn’t have anything,” said Schulz about receiving the blankets aboard the Volendam. “We received the blankets and we used them, we didn’t have anything else.”
In 1974, Schulz immigrated to Canada with her husband and two young daughters. They moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where her brother lived at that time. The three blankets travelled with them.
Over 70 years later, the blankets aren’t quite whole anymore, they’re worn from age and travel, says Schulz. But the memories they hold haven’t faded.
While Schulz and her family were grateful for the blankets when they received them aboard the Volendam, she said the full extent of their meaning came later.
“To think of the blankets that were shipped overseas and given to us because we didn’t have anything. It was not just a small thing,” said Schulz. “There were thousands of passengers on the ship and all the families got it. There were not only blankets, there were clothes and shoes, and MCC provided all that.”
Since they arrived in Winnipeg, Schulz and her young children connected with a local Mennonite church where she joined a sewing group that makes blankets like the ones she received.
To think of the blankets that were shipped overseas and given to us because we didn’t have anything. It was not just a small thing. There were thousands of passengers on the ship and all the families got it. There were not only blankets, there were clothes and shoes, and MCC provided all that.”
- Tina Schulz
Schulz’s eldest daughter, Irene Derksen, was two years old when her parents moved the family to Canada. But it’s her mom’s journey from Europe to Canada that inspired them to attend the Great Winter Warm-up, a comforter-making event to increase the supply of comforters that MCC ships to displaced people around the world.
“We don’t know exactly where the blankets are going, but it’s the same kind of story as mom’s, people displaced from their homes and in need,” Derksen says.
The Great Winter Warm-up took place on January 18, 2020, at more than 100 locations across Canada and the U.S., and volunteers completed more than 9,400 comforters, setting a record for MCC. Schulz and her three daughters attended the event at North Kildonan Mennonite Brethren Church in Winnipeg. Seeing a gym full of people tying and sewing was inspiring for Derksen. “[It] makes me feel better that someone was caring for my mom like this,” she says. “That they’re thinking about other people and not just themselves.”
Allison Zacharias is the communications co-ordinator for MCC Manitoba.