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WINNIPEG, Man. — As the conflict in war-stricken Syria continues to claim lives and destroy livelihoods, the number of people facing hunger has jumped to 2 million.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is scaling up its emergency food response in Syria by providing just over $1.3 million of assistance through MCC’s account at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

This response will supply monthly food baskets of rice, bulgur wheat, pasta, oil, lentils, tea, sugar, salt and canned meat to 5,000 displaced families in the Qalamoun area for five months, said Chris Ewert, a coordinator of MCC’s response in Syria. Distribution activities will get under way the first week of December.

This project is being jointly implemented by two MCC partner organizations—one in Syria that cannot be named due to security reasons and one in Lebanon named Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue (FDCD).

“The communities in this area are known for welcoming anyone in need,” said Ewert, who met with leaders of both organizations during a recent visit to Lebanon.

“This population of about 35,000 people is sharing their homes and resources with more than 90,000 people who have been uprooted from their homes as a result of violence. Even after 19 months, they continue to refer to new arrivals not as strangers, but as guests.”

Families arrive with little cash, few assets and increasingly limited opportunities for jobs. They live in cramped conditions with host families or public buildings, such as schools and clinics.

“As the conflict continues and the daily arrivals of displaced families escalate, the resources of host families have been severely depleted,” said Ewert.

The main source of help for many in this area is MCC’s partner organization that has assisted people experiencing poverty for more than 50 years. Their work is supported mainly through charitable gifts of individuals.

This past year, the organization has been partnering with FDCD, a longstanding MCC partner organization in Lebanon that promotes peacebuilding in the Middle East and has experience in large-scale project management.

The Qalamoun area is between Homs and Damascus. The number of people in this area needing food assistance is now estimated at 90,000. Through this response, 25,000 of those most vulnerable will have these needs met for the next five months.

“This food assistance is critical to not only carry vulnerable families through the particularly difficult winter months ahead, but also provide some respite to a host community that has given to the point of sacrifice,” said Ewert.

Gladys Terichow is a writer for MCC Canada.