Lily’s Story

By MCS Program Director, Anna Bergen

About 20 years ago, a young woman called our Family Education and Support Project of Aylmer (FESPA) office asking about classes for women. Lily* heard about our program and was eager to be registered for classes. It was summertime, which means there were no classes until the fall.

She shared that she and her husband had recently moved to Canada as a newly married couple and she was going stir crazy in their small apartment in downtown Aylmer. Lily came from Mexico, and having lived in a colony, there was always something to do and someone to visit. Suddenly she found herself very alone in a new country while her husband was at work.

As the summer went on, she called a few more times to ensure she was registered and that she had not missed the starting date.

In the fall, she started attending classes where she was able to meet other women who shared her experiences and, like her, were learning how to do life in Canada. Lily was a joy to those around her, always sharing her smile freely with everyone. Although she did not enjoy school, she was determined to keep attending so she could learn to speak English.

When she was expecting her first child, we enrolled her in our Family Support and Mom&Baby Programs to assist her at various appointments, advocating and translating for her. Being a first-time mother she was very grateful for the support from FESPA as she would not have been able to communicate with the doctors on her own. Being our very first participant in the Mom&Baby Program she was also very gracious as we tried to launch this new program. Instead of complaining, she just gratefully accepted what we could offer as we stumbled through that first year together with her, all of us on a new journey. Shortly after her son was born, Lily and her husband were able to purchase a house which was a blessing to them as the apartment they lived in was not suitable for family life.

Lily continued to attend FESPA classes for several years, first bringing only one son and then a couple of years later, her second child. When her oldest son began attending public school she began to transition out of our program and began helping at the school as a parent volunteer. The school principal was overjoyed to see a newcomer willing to volunteer with the school.

I met up with Lily this year and learned that she still lives in the same house they bought when her first child was born, she now has four beautiful children in three different schools, her oldest son graduated from high school last year, and she continues to support the schools where her children attend.

It is a joy to meet people in the community and see how they have re-established their lives because they received welcoming support when they were newcomers.

*Name changed for privacy

Pictured above, FESPA students in class in January 2020.

Here and Back Again: Communities Helping One Another

By Diana Peters, MCS staff member, as told by Donna Lunn, Harvest Bowl Program Manager

Every year, Elgin County has an influx of Temporary Foreign Workers from a variety of places, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, to assist local farmers in the planting, nurturing, and harvesting of crops. These Workers are a much-needed boon to an area that has much work and yet not enough local workers to fulfill the need. 

It is with the help of the Temporary Foreign Workers that our local community and area is able to enjoy an abundance of local fresh fruits and vegetables for a good portion of the year, as well as contribute to the general food production in Ontario. 

Caribbean pumpkins, donated to Harvest Bowl by Howe's Family Farm.
Caribbean pumpkins, donated to Harvest Bowl by Howe Family Farms.

Organizations, such as Harvest Bowl*, also benefit, as some of the extra harvest is donated and dehydrated in order to make packages of delicious and nutritious soup. These packages are distributed to places such as the Aylmer Corner Cupboard, and other food banks, for those in our community who are in need. 

Caribbean pumpkin from Howe's Family Farm in the Harvest Bowl dehydrator, diced by Harvest Bowl volunteers.
Caribbean pumpkin from Howe Family Farms in the Harvest Bowl dehydrator, diced by Harvest Bowl volunteers.

This past spring, a volcano eruption brought devastation to many people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. When our local Howe Family Farms heard of the hardships that the people of St. Vincent were experiencing, including some of their own past farm workers, they decided to take action. They began a collection for essential items, such as dried goods and toiletries, to send to the most in need regions of St. Vincent. The goal was to collect enough for one shipping bin. 

Through the generosity of the community, enough was collected to fill not one but TWO shipping bins! Along with the donations from the community, Harvest Bowl also was able to give back to these workers and their communities by contributing 80 pounds of dried vegetables! Isn’t that amazing? 

 Packages of Harvest Bowl Squash & Potato Soup
Packages of Harvest Bowl Squash & Potato Soup.

When we needed help, they came. And when they needed help, we sent from the abundance that they had helped us produce. 

*Harvest Bowl is a project started by MCS that continues to grow with the goal of becoming completely independent and self-sustaining. Harvest Bowl’s mission is to provide a gleaning service with further processing of vegetables to create packages of dry soup mix for distribution county-wide for those in need.

Learn more about Harvest Bowl on their website, www.harvestbowl.ca.

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Thrift Donations Receiving Hours January 2022

Starting Tuesday, January 4, 2022, donations receiving hours at the Aylmer Thrift Store will be Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, 10 am – 4 pm.

If you have a large donation, please call ahead, 519-765-1356. Please also arrive by 3:45pm to allow time for unloading.

Thank you for dropping off your donations during these designated times only.

If you would like to volunteer with us, please give us a call!

Local Doctor’s Roundtable Discussion

As an ear to the community, we hear that people have lots of questions about COVID and vaccines and we continue to help find and share information on these topics.

A round table discussion with local doctors on the status of COVID in East Elgin on the radio is now available for listening on-demand as a podcast on our website.

Our Executive Director, Eddy Rempel, hosted this panel, presenting questions about COVID-19 and vaccines to a panel of 3 local physicians:

1. Dr. Jillian Toogood, family physician at East Elgin Family Health Team who often provides care in the area of women’s health;

2. Dr. Douglas MacPherson, an infectious disease specialist at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital who has participated in various projects with the World Health Organization; and

3. Dr. Michael Toth, former head of the Ontario Medical Association, and also a practicing physician in Aylmer for 35 years.

This discussion aired several times earlier this month on De Brigj. The podcast starts with a Low German summary, and the English discussion starts at the 6:15 mark.

If you missed it, listen on-demand on our website: 21-12-06 Dit & Daut – Mennonite Community Services of Southern Ontario (mcson.org)

Generous Donors Support MCS

Thank you so much to everyone who donated or helped share the word about our Matching Campaign! Your generosity is so appreciated!

Your donations given during the Matching Campaign will make a huge impact and your generosity surpassed our goal! Over $16,000 came in!

In total with the gifts of the anonymous two local businesses committed to matching up to $15,000 each, over $46,000 was raised for the work of MCS in our community.

Thank you to the individuals, families, and businesses for blessing the work of supporting and integrating newcomers in our community. God bless you!

#AylmerON#MennoniteCommunityServices#GivingSeason#MakeADifference


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Final Thrift Donations Receiving Day of 2021

We look forward to receiving your donations Saturday, December 18, from 10 am – 4 pm. This will be our last donations receiving day of 2021 at the Aylmer Thrift Store, 300 Talbot St. W, Aylmer, ON.

If you have a large load, or large items, such as furniture, please give us a call ahead of time (519-765-1356), and please arrive by 3:45pm to allow time for unloading.

A very big thank you to all for your cooperation and your patience in following our drop-off guidelines (available on our website, www.mcson.org) and waiting your turn to make your drop-off. Thank you for continuing to keep our donations receiving a safe experience for all!

Stay tuned for an announcement at the end of the month about our new January 2022 donations receiving hours!

Two Donations Receiving Days left at Aylmer Thrift Store in 2021

Put on your jingle bells and hustle your sleigh on over to our last two donations receiving days of the year! 🔔🦌🛷

We look forward to receiving your donations Saturday, December 11, and Saturday, December 18, from 10 am – 4 pm.

A very big thank you to all for your cooperation and your patience in following our drop-off guidelines (available on our website, www.mcson.org) and waiting your turn to make your drop-off. Thank you for continuing to keep our donations receiving a safe experience for all!

Stay tuned for an announcement at the end of the month about our new January donations receiving hours!

MCS Matching Campaign Nov 30-Dec 14

Giving Tuesday kicks off the MCS Matching Campaign!

All donations made to MCS from Tuesday, November 30 – Tuesday, December 14, will be matched by TWO very generous local businesses, up to $15,000 each! This means that your gift is tripled! If you give $25, MCS will receive $75, if you give $100, MCS will receive $300, or if you give $500, MCS will receive $1,500! MCS has continued to adapt and provide services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ve helped over 2,000 people in our last fiscal year, including many families with documentation and accessing health care. We supported people through job losses and job searches. Dozens of women, children, and babies received support in developing English language and life skills, nutrition, and pre- and postnatal care, all the more needed during pandemic restrictions.

In addition, radio listeners felt less alone when they heard inspiring music and uplifting programs through Radio De Brigj CHPD 105.9FM. And, we reached out to support seniors during times of isolation. These essential services depend on your support.

Because of the pandemic, we have not been able to hold our usual fundraising events: the Annual Banquet in the spring, the Annual Auction and Food Fest that normally happens in June, and our Thrift Store was closed for long periods of time. This has had a significant negative impact on our funds. We invite you to support us and give the gift of helping others this Christmas!

You can donate online, at www.mcson.org, in-person at the Aylmer Resource Centre, 16 Talbot St. E in Aylmer, by mail to 16 Talbot St. E, Aylmer, ON N5H 1H4. Donations over $10 are tax receiptable. We invite you to call us at 519-765-3020 if you have questions.

To help these essential programs continue to be provided in our community and to have your gift matched before December 14, we invite you to visit the Donate page on our website!

Community Spirit Award Presented to Former MCS Executive Director Abe Harms

The Aylmer & Area Chamber of Commerce Community Spirit Award is all about recognizing local organizations and business members that truly exemplify community spirit.

It is our privilege on behalf of Bakery Tilly Trillium LLP to present the 2021 award to Abe Harms, formerly of Mennonite Community Services.

Mennonite Community Services(MCS), Program Director Anna Bergen sent us the following details in recognition of Abe’s background.

“He has a long history of connecting with the different Mennonite Church leaders and business leaders. This helped him in his role here. He was hired to take the existing MCC programs and create an independent registered charity. He did that even though it took much longer than anyone expected. His leadership and passion for the Mennonite people has had a tremendous impact on MCS. He was instrumental in getting the radio set up here at MCS along with developing the employment services partnership with Aylmer Community Services. He also built community and agency connections quickly which built trust and strengthened relationships. He advocated not only for the Mennonites and other newcomers but also advocated for community agencies to the Mennonite populations.

He is a lifelong learner, a visionary leader, and a fountain of information on a very wide range of topics. His hobby is woodworking. I know he creates beautiful bowls and some home décor items often using leftover wood scraps. One year all staff at MCS received a small desk clock for their birthdays from him. I remember a few were shaped like a baseball. He is also a very proud father and grandfather.”

Congratulations to Abe Harms and thank you for your dedication!  Abe retired from MCS in August 2020 but his work in our community continues and for that we are grateful.

In recognition of the dedication Abe has shown to improving our community, the Aylmer office of Baker Tilly Trillium LLP, Chartered Professional Accountants will make a donation on his behalf to a registered charity of his choice.

To read more about Abe’s history, you can find his musings here: https://www.mcson.org/2021/musings-from-the-outgoing-ed/?fbclid=IwAR1CpfhHnW05GqZE8qP1vpHTAHZWkDTsxQ_IQjgkiAkMje_FaU-UbH5i_RE

Submitted by the Aylmer & Area Chamber of Commerce

MCC Peace Buttons

MCC Peace Buttons are available for purchase for just $1.00 each at the Aylmer Resource Centre Front Desk.

These red buttons date back to 1989, when a pastor in Ontario suggested that MCC share a message of peace during the Remembrance Day period. MCC Ontario embraced the idea and the simple message “to remember is to work for peace” was born. 1

As our nation remembers the atrocities of war and the many lives given and taken, we invite you to wear the peace button and to remember all people who are affected by war. It could be worn in addition to a poppy pin.

The Aylmer Resource Centre is located at 16 Talbot St. E, Aylmer, ON. Hours are Tuesday-Friday, 10am-5pm. Closed 12:30pm-1pm for lunch. Open late until 7pm on Thursdays.

1. Source: Peace buttons | Mennonite Central Committee Canada (mcccanada.ca)

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