(article by Vicky Duke)
I used to struggle getting up in public but learned that when you find something you have a passion for, it becomes much easier. I am reminded of Moses at the burning bush when God sent him out to lead the Israelites out of captivity. Psalm 121; verse 1-2 says “I lift up mine eye to the hills, from where does my help come. My help comes from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth”. With God, all things are possible.
I took a bible study a few years ago on the Book of James. Verse 27 of James l tells us to look after ‘orphans and widows’ in their distress. The verse has stayed with me ever since.
I learned not long after that how God works in mysterious ways. I call them my ‘mini miracles’. When immigrant families started coming to our area in the Eastern Townships of Quebec a few of them started attending our church. One Sunday at our annual congregational meeting they introduced themselves and we asked them if there was anything we could do to help them. One of them requested a refrigerator and another a couch and chair and others household items.
I knew I had these things as I had just sold my home and was downsizing to a condo. I spoke up and said, “I do”. Others did the same that day and that is how it started. We became friends with the families and word of mouth and conversations brought more immigrants who we now call ‘our new neighbours’ to Emmanuel and the community.
At Emmanuel, we have an annual quilt show. I liken ‘our new neighbours’ to quilt making. Have you ever taken a good look at a quilt? Quilts go back a long way and have been handed down in families from generation to generation. Heirlooms. They bring time together. Focus on the detail when looking at it: squares, triangles, different colors, different sizes, pieces of cloth all joined together to get a beautiful result. Quilts are universal, all unique in their own way. The same with our new neighbours, they are unique. They come from Africa, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Columbia, Mexico and Ukraine to name a few – all with different cultures, languages and religions.
In the early stages, we began giving new families coming to our area a donated quilt as a Welcome gift showing that we can and do come together just like the quilt which is pieced into something of beauty. There are no barriers of ethnicity, colour or culture. We are all God’s children and loved by Him unconditionally.
I have been working with Chantal Bélanger of SERY (Solidarité ethnique régionale de la Yamaska), a non-profit organization created in 1992. It is an organization mandated by the Ministry of Immigration, to support immigrants who settle in the region of Haute Yamaska and Brome-Missisquoi. Chantal deals with the families coming into our area, helping them find apartments and furnishings. This is where we at Emmanuel help when and where we can.
Last summer two families from Emmanuel who were downsizing, donated furniture and household items. As there were new immigrant families coming to our area, we assisted SERY in getting the needed furniture and other items to the new families who had just arrived.
Through the pandemic we continued collecting donations of clothing and household items even though the immigrants had stopped coming to Canada during those months. We worked out an agreement with L’Atelier de Récup in Cowansville, one of our resource organizations, to take items being donated by church and community and put them in their store. In turn, they agreed to keep track of all donations and give Emmanuel vouchers worth $20 each, which eventually would be given to a family on their arrival to our area. Depending on needs, we may give several vouchers to a family. This way they could shop at Récup, pick up what they need and pay the difference. Presently and in the future it is our hope that we can approach other organizations to partner in a way similar to that of Récup.
As the Project evolved, we decided as a church to give the Project a name, “Emmanuel Welcome Project – Projet Bienvenue” and move on from there. We organized a team of four volunteers and met together to get started. A Resource Summary was prepared for the new neighbours identifying names, phone numbers and hours of operation for different organizations in the surrounding areas of Cowansville, Bromont, Sutton, Bedford, Granby and Farnham. There are food banks, thrift shops, along with other resources for youth, women and family needs.
An Emmanuel Welcome Project brochure was made welcoming our new neighbours to Quebec and the community. The brochure was sent out in our weekly church newsletter as well as given out to several of the resource organizations on our list.
We decided as a group, and with church Board approval, to open our Welcome Project Room in the church basement in an area where the Cowansville Food Bank had recently vacated. With help from church members, donated paint and new flooring, the room was ready for use.
With the overwhelming support from the church and community, we received donations of new pillows and pillow cases, new and lightly used bedding, quilts, hand woven bed coverings, blankets, towels and much more.
Around this time we were invited as guest speakers at different organizations in the community where many were enthusiastic in helping in any way possible. Applications were made for grants with the Bedford Pastoral Outreach Fund and the United Church of Canada Foundation. We were blessed with their support to the Project.
As the Project grew and families arrived in our area a new Welcome gift package was given to them. This package would include a welcome card, a quilt or woven blanket, an Emmanuel & Bedford Pastoral Charge Newsletter, vouchers from L’Atelier de Récup, a list of resources and other small household items. With the stash of items in our Welcome Project Room we were able to donate other items as needed.
For the months of October and November 2021, the Welcome Project had a winter clothing donation drive to collect winter coats, boots, scarves, mitts, sweaters, etc. for our new neighbours. They selected winter clothing and other household items as needed from the shelves. During December 2021 and January 2022, SERY’s Chantal Bélanger came and selected a few winter items for new neighbours just arriving.
In late January we were not certain how we would store the winter clothing with spring just around the corner. A local newspaper article gave us the answer. A young local family wanted to help the homeless in Montreal and ‘bingo’ we had another mini miracle.
The Welcome Project continues to follow up on our new neighbours who have settled in the area in the past. Some of them may be struggling due to the pandemic, financial reasons or other issues. In the fall we helped with getting school supplies, donations of food, food gift cards and some cash donations. We work with our local resources such as Récup, Avanté, Cellule de Jeunesse, Maison de la famille and Knights of Columbus to name a few.
It has been through the overwhelming support of church members, families and friends, and our community coming forward to assist that makes this project work. Also, a number of new neighbours have come forward to help as well. They are so grateful for the help they have received, they feel that it is a way for them to give back.
We at Emmanuel will continue to welcome new neighbours to the community and for those who wish, into a community of faith. The new arrivals are leaving so much behind and embarking on a new beginning, a beginning of hope and promise. We will continue to make them feel welcome.
“I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.” – Matthew 25:40
- Vicky Duke with donated paint – Rev. David Lefneski
- In the beginning…& new paint, new floor – Karen Ingalls
- Vicky, Darlene and van – Cynthia Royea
- Welcome Project room today – Karen Ingalls
- Welcome Project kiosk – Karen Ingalls
- Welcome Project promotional sign – Karen Ingalls