It began with an idea in a time of need.
Art DeFehr, a Winnipeg furniture businessman, had just returned to Canada from Bangladesh in 1974, where, as the Country Representative of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), he had witnessed drought and famine. He wondered how hunger could be alleviated in a more efficient way than through mere handouts. So together with three other people (John Wieler of MCC, Dave Durksen from the Federal Grain Company, Len Siemens from the College of Agriculture at the University of Manitoba) he brain-stormed until they had an idea. They reasoned that if Joseph in Egypt was able to tackle hunger by stockpiling grain, so could a group of Mennonites.
In short, by 1975, the Mennonite Food Bank was born under the umbrella of MCC Canada. From 1975 to 1983, mostly Mennonite farmers donated grain and hauled it to any elevator and consigned it to the Canadian Wheat Board with credit to the Mennonite Food Bank. In turn, with Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) matching grants, nearly 30,000 metric tonnes of grain were shipped to a dozen African and Asian countries. Saskatchewan Mennonites were part of that program.
Wherever possible, food aid was accompanied by programs that would lead to sustainable agriculture. Impoverished farmers received grain for work to lift them out of destitution. As time went on, they received seed for planting in the next season. The Mennonite Food Bank became a success.
Other Churches observed what was happening and approached MCC about joining the Food Bank. In 1983, the Mennonite Food Bank was dissolved and replaced by the CFGB. MCC now became only one partner. It was joined over time by the relief and development agencies of the United Church, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Adventist, Baptist, Catholic, Salvation Army, Presbyterian, Nazarene, Christian Reformed, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Anglican, and Evangelical Missionary churches. World Relief is also a member. Headquarters are in Winnipeg.
When a Saskatchewan farmer hauls in a load of wheat to the elevator that is to be donated to the CFGB, the agent asks to which church group it is to be credited. If the farmer is Lutheran, it is credited to Lutheran World Relief. If the farmer is Mennonite it is credited to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). The wheat is sold and MCC gets the money. In an emergency food crisis, say in Ethiopia, MCC may pool its "bank" with the Lutheran "bank" to make a decided difference. In all cases the Federal Government will multiply the donations of CFGB partners by about four times. So if a CFGB partner raises $10,000 through grain or cash donations, and the Government puts in $40,000, a total of $50,000 is available for the emergency. But the CFGB does much more than respond to emergencies. In most cases it promotes sustainable ways to take poor villagers out of poverty so that they become self-sufficient. Small dams and reservoirs to store water are built. Loans for seed, entrepreneurial training, building reservoirs, and marketing are all things the CFGB does.
Each of the church partners is involved in exciting fundraising projects. Mennonite participants are involved in some exciting ways: A Sunday School at Osler raised over two thousand dollars on a Christmas Eve for food for refugees in Syria. The Mustard Seed Growing Project in the Eigenheim-Laird- Rosthern area raised $750,000 over 11 years.
For twenty five years an annual Foodgrains Bank Sale has been held, first at the Hiebert farm and currently at the Wiebe farm in the Neuanlage-Hague community. Each year it raises more than a hundred thousand dollars. Each March a huge fundraising supper is held at the Valley Christian Academy or at the Brian King Center in Warman.
For ten years, the Aberdeen Mennonite Church has raised nearly a thousand dollars a month from Sunday community meals. Farmers donate wheat that is turned into cash. Agro-businesses and fuel companies make donations to growing projects. Education takes place in churches.
Recently John and Helena Ens from the Bergthaler Mennonite Church visited Ethiopia and are reporting on what they have learned and seen. Public schools have used educational materials produced in Winnipeg to teach students about hunger. Saskatchewan churches raised 1.76 million dollars out of which Mennonite churches contributed just over $534,000 and are the largest donor.
In 2013, all 13 church partners of the CFGB raised 11.8 million dollars. The Government of Canada donated 31.2 million dollars for a grand total of 43 million dollars. This money helped two million people in 37 countries of Africa, Asia and the Americas. The money was spent in emergency feeding, in supplying seeds and fertilizer for poor farmers, for building dams and reservoirs to store water, for loans to farmers, and for training people in marketing and management. The CFGB knows it must first feed the hungry, but quickly moves to try to make them food-sufficient.
The CFGB does outstanding research on issues of food security. This information is very important for the general public, for the Government and for churches. Additionally It helps local recipient communities to plan for self-sufficient methods of raising food. The CFGB also does extensive education about food for Canadians. Sometimes the economic policies of "rich" nations results in impoverishing people in "poor" nations. CFGB prepares worship materials to be used in churches.
The CFGB partners believe that humankind is created in the image of God and God desires that no one should go hungry. The CFGB holds these eight values dear: compassion; equality; generosity; human dignity; justice; peace; right to food, and; right relationships.
Back to MCCS's 50th Anniversary - index Or; Jan: IVEP | Feb: Thrift Shop Movement | Mar: Canadian Foodgrains Bank| Apr: Ten Thousand Villages | May: Restorative Justice | June: Relief Sale | July: Refugee Assistance | Aug: Aboriginal Neighbours (Historical overview) | Sept: Governance | Oct: Music Gala