British Columbia

'They are going to be warm': Mennonite quilters celebrate 100 years of gifting to people in need

Parishioners from a Mennonite church in Abbotsford and others from across Canada and the U.S. have marked a century of Mennonite outreach by making quilts for people in need.

Parishioners in Abbotsford, B.C., joined others in Canada and the U.S. to mark anniversary with quilt making

Volunteers with the Ross Road Community Church in Abbotsford work on quilts on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020 as part of an effort to make 6,500 for people in need through the Mennonite Central Committee. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Parishioners from a Mennonite church in Abbotsford helped mark a century of outreach by making quilts for people in need.

They spent Saturday at the Ross Road Community Church participating in what's called the Great Winter Warm Up — an international effort to make 6,500 handmade comforters for people affected by conflict and disaster around the world.

"My thoughts are always someone's going to sleep under this blanket, whether it's a child or an adult and they are going to be warm," said Alvira Froese from the event.

Mennonites are members of Christian groups that follow the writings of Menno Simons, a former Roman Catholic priest, who broke away in the 16th century and focused on the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.

In 1920, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) was formed in Chicago, Illinois, to find a way to provide food and support for Mennonites starving in Ukraine.

After the Russian Revolution in 1917, many Mennonite farmers were dispossessed of their land and suffered. Mennonites who had emigrated to Canada and the U.S. tried to help them through the MCC.

The Committee then expanded to provide relief work around the world.

Susan Peterson with the Ross Road Community Church in Abbotsford began quilting with her mother when she was a teenager. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

The Great Winter Warm Up event marked 100 years of parishioners gathering in halls and in basements across North American to take up needles, thread and pieces of fabric to make quilts. They are gifts to help keep people in need warm but also remind them that people care about them.

"Last year we watched a video of [people] receiving their blankets and they don't call them blankets they call them their Mennonites, 'we got our Mennonites,'" said quilter Marlene Dirksen.

The quilts made in places like Abbotsford will be shipped to places like Haiti, Iraq, Serbia, and Zambia but also within Canada and the U.S. where there is need.

In 2019 the MCC sent more than 53,000 hand made comforters to people around the world.

Ron Ratzlaff with the Mennonite Central Committee got to hand some of those quilts out. He says it made him happy to see the faces of people receiving them.

"It thrills my heart because you see the joy and it keeps their children warm at night," he said.

Marcy and Hannah Belzer volunteered as one mother-and-daughter duo at the Ross Road Community Church in Abbotsford to make quilts for people in need on Saturday Jan. 8, 2020. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

With files from Deborah Goble