Moving the needle

A multigenerational church provides tangible relief

Five gallon buckets packed with hygiene supplies

It’s a crisp November evening in Winnipeg's River East and the energy at McIvor Avenue Mennonite Brethren Church is palpable. The church’s tweens and teens, ages 11 to 16, tap their feet, whisper and giggle through a relief kit packing tutorial.

Despite a distraction or two, the assignment is well understood. More than 20 relief kits are packed for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in the blink of an eye.

Seemingly flurried, the youth group’s activity was well thought out. The kit packing night a culmination of the congregation’s multigenerational, church-wide effort to support MCC’s Buckets of Thanks initiative.

A father and his three children pose with hygiene items
Denver Wilson and his children, from left to right, Rowan Wilson (7), Lark Wilson (4) and Esme Wilson (7), with the relief kit supplies McIvor Church collected for MCC's Buckets of Thanks initiative. MCC photo/Nikki Hamm Gwala

Buckets of Thanks is an annual opportunity for churches, families and other groups to partner in service with MCC. It encourages participants to pay their gratitude forward, raising funds and packing relief kits for people affected by conflict and disaster around the Thanksgiving season.

This fall, McIvor Church joined the initiative.

Denver Wilson, the church’s lead pastor, says the project appealed to the congregation. “Our congregation just has a long history with participation in tangible kinds of projects.”

Initiatives like Buckets of Thanks help the congregation to imagine and empathize with recipients’ stories, he says.

Two girls roll towels on a table
Grace Epp (in grey) and Allison Penner pack a relief kit for MCC at McIvor Church's youth kit packing night in early November. MCC photo/Nikki Hamm Gwala

“It’s a cool way to integrate both the older generation and the younger generation [in service],” says Mikayla Doerksen, the church’s youth pastor.

Doerksen says she hopes the experience will deepen gratitude, awareness of global needs and commitment to Christian service amongst the youth.

Allison Penner, 13, was happy to see her congregation work together on Buckets of Thanks. “Helping people is not a question,” Penner says at youth night.  

She is quick to link wealth with paying it forward, paraphrasing a biblical example from Luke 3:11.

The McIvor congregation set a goal to raise funds for 20 relief kits and surpassed that in time for the youth kit packing night in early November.

I feel like it will make a lot of people smile to see that they were thought of with these kits."

Estelle Wiens, 11.

Although families who receive MCC relief kits face challenging circumstances, their stories often confirm that Wiens is right on the mark.

How buckets turn into thanks

Asad*, his wife Hana* and their four children fled Iraq for safety more than three years ago.

Initially, the family sought temporary asylum in Iraqi communities but, after Asad was kidnapped, physically assaulted and threatened, the family realized they would not be able to return home.

By the time the family arrived in Jordan, Asad and his eldest two sons, Majid*, 21, and Shakir*, 18, sustained hearing and visual impairments due to bombings and physical assault.

The family registered for resettlement with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and, while they waited, Asad sought work to support his family.

Two people in coats and face masks pick up buckets and bags in a classroom
In 2021, Asad* and Hana* collect an MCC relief kit and comforters at the Caritas Center in Jordan. Photo courtesy of Caritas Jordan

Due to his hearing impairment, he was unable to retain a job. Hana found work as a housekeeper, but it wasn’t enough to cover the family’s rent, provide enough to eat and register their children in school.

The family was forced to move to a run-down home, where they contended with mice and cockroaches.

When Hana needed medical attention, a neighbour introduced the family to Caritas Jordan, a local MCC partner. Through Caritas, the family was able to access basic medical services and began receiving relief supplies, including MCC relief kits and comforters.

While the family awaits permanent resettlement, they rely on the support they receive from Caritas and a monthly allowance from UNHCR to survive.

With global displacement reaching unprecedented numbers this year, stories like Asad and Hana’s are far too common.

Volunteers at McIvor Avenue Mennonite Brethren Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, came together in November 2022 to pack relief kits for MCC as part of the Buckets of Thanks initiative.
Elijah Fuchs (in grey) and Joel Plett finish packing a relief kit for MCC at McIvor Church's youth kit packing night in early November. MCC photo/Nikki Hamm Gwala

We can be quick to think about the next thing but debriefing, storytelling and remembering is important, says Wilson.

He says the McIvor congregation hopes to move the needle and make a practical difference in challenging situations that families like Asad and Hana’s find themselves. On a deeper level, the congregation prays that recipients will recognize God’s care through their tangible gift or relief kits.

“We pray that they [will] feel seen.”

Relief kits are in high demand due to the crisis in Ukraine and other ongoing conflicts and disasters. Learn more about relief kit packing now or consider planning a Buckets of Thanks fundraiser with your church, family or friend group around next Thanksgiving.

*Pseudonyms used for security purposes