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Connecting Our Communities

Lending a hand, and a little bit of comfort

MCC launches its centennial year with the Great Winter Warm-up, a bid to collect 6,500 comforters in one day, Jan. 18

Handmade comforters have for decades been part of the care packages the Mennonite Central Committee has sent to aid people displaced by war or natural disasters. With the organization celebrating its centennial year in 2020, it’s looking to honour that tradition in style.

On January 18, MCC hopes to collect a record-breaking 6,500 comforters on one day, making the Great Winter Warm-up its biggest-ever comforter making event.

The event is symbolic of MCC’s long history of relief work. When people have been displaced by conflict or disaster, MCC often sends comforters along with other relief supplies. The comforters keep people warm when living in temporary shelters, for instance, but are also a reminder that people on the other side of the world are thinking of them.

That’s especially helpful with refugees, says Sheryl Bruggeling, MCC’s communications and events senior manager.

“They’re fleeing with nothing. We’re giving them something and letting them know we’re thinking of them,” she said of the inclusion of a handmade item in the care packages.

Providing care for refugees is in keeping with its centennial-year push, she added.

“The focus this year is on supporting displaced people,” said Bruggeling, noting the need never seems to subside.

“There are millions of people displaced around the world.”

Every year, the organization receives more requests for comforters than it can meet. The items are sent to relief partners in more than 50 countries. Last year, more than 53,000 comforters were shipped by MCC to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Haiti, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Malawi, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Serbia, Syria and Ukraine, along with a sprinkling in Canada and the U.S.

“Comforters provide a tangible message to people affected by conflict and disaster that their needs are not forgotten,” said John Head, executive director of MCC Ontario.

“Comforters are an excellent metaphor for the nature of our work around the world at MCC,” added Rick Cober Bauman, executive director of MCC Canada. “One square of fabric alone cannot keep the cold away, but many pieces connected together produce warmth against the cold. When our volunteers and supporters come together to create comforters for The Great Winter Warm-up, they will make a difference in the lives of people affected by conflict and disaster.”

Ahead of the January 18 event, which is being marked by partner organizations across the continent, including the likes of the Drayton Reformed Church, MCC staff covered the atrium of its 50 Kent St., Kitchener headquarters with a raft of comforters.

While many of the regular comforter knotters, so named for the process by which the items are assembled, distinct from the more-involved quilts, MCC is hoping the event will draw in a wider audience to take part, perhaps forming a knot or two themselves.

“We’re inviting the general public to come by and tie a knot, and to learn about what MCC does,” said Bruggeling.

Getting the word out is part of the 100th anniversary year. MCC has been active since 1920, when it started by helping families affected by war and famine in southern Russia (present-day Ukraine). It now works in more than 50 countries around the world.

Great Winter Warm-up events take place across Canada and the U.S. More information and locations can be found online.

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