The Canadian Foodgrains Bank is celebrating its 40th birthday this month of helping hungry people around the world.
It was started by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Winnipeg and has expanded to become the most ecumenical Christian organization in North America, spanning denominations from Mennonite and Baptist to Roman Catholic and Salvation Army.
The first call put out by the MCC brought in 1,442 tonnes of grain from farmers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and the grain went to India.
Today the 15 partner organizations attract donations from farmers, urbanites, churches, businesses, the Canadian government, and others from coast-to-coast. More than one million people in 40 countries were helped in fiscal 2015-16.
Corny Petkau, 72, was involved in that first collection of grain. He remembers driving from farm to farm in southern Manitoba, sticking his augur into grain bins and auguring out bushels of grain.
“I was glad to be a small part of that beginning,” he says. “We knew it was going where it was needed.”
Donating grain was also personal for Petkau, whose father emigrated from Russia in 1926.
“He was helped to get started in his new country, Canada, and he passed along to his children the message that we also needed to whatever we could to help others,” Petkau says.
Once collected, the grain was taken to Rosenort Seeds, owned by brothers Ben and Jake Friesen, where it was cleaned, processed and bagged before being loaded into a boxcar.
“When were asked, we were glad to offer our services,” says Ben of how he and Jake, now deceased, provided the services of their company to the first grain gathering effort.
“We were happy to be part of it, never realizing how big it would grow. We just wanted to do something to help.”
Ben, 78, is now retired but still involved with the Foodgrains Bank through the Scratching River Growing Project. So is Petkau, who is part of the Living Grains Growing Project.
The projects are an idea that became popular, especially in Ontario where rural and urban congregations joined to plant mainly corn or soybeans, usually on donated land. Supply companies often conated fertilizers, seeds and pesticides.
Harvest time is often a co-ordinated effort of farmers, grain companies and the urban and rural congregations who come together to celebrate what they will be giving to feed needy people.
Donors can give to any one of the 15 partner organizations who put the grain or money into their “account” at the bank. Donors can also give to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank itself.
When disaster strikes, such as drought in East Africa, a partner organization working in a country in that area can draw from its account. Others can choose to lend support from their accounts.
Volunteers are drawn from the member churches to provide project supervision and liaison for relief efforts.
The Canadian Foodgrains Bank works better than many global agencies which work with governments, too often resulting in frustrating bureaucracy and corruption.
The Canadian Foodgrains Bank bypasses those bureaucratic structures to put resources directly into the stricken communities.