Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba Mennonites ready to help in Alberta

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FLOOD-STRICKEN downtown Calgary has reopened its doors, but there's still a long road ahead and Manitobans are ready to help.

Janet Plenert is the leader of Mennonite Disaster Service, a national faith-based organization headquartered in Winnipeg that responds to disasters in both Canada and the United States.

"We rebuild the homes and then give the keys back. We delight in helping," she said.

Plenert has travelled to Alberta communities such as Calgary, Medicine Hat and Black Diamond to see where the organization can take its tool kits.

"When everyone else leaves, we stay and offer free labour," she said. "We stay long-term and rebuild for people who need it, for people who fall through the cracks."

Plenert said MDS often helps seniors, immigrants and people with disabilities rebuild their homes.

The Christian organization has between 750 and 800 volunteers a year from Canada and the U.S. who help communities that have been affected by a natural disaster.

"We get a lot of people who come out and volunteer from Manitoba," she said "People need an extra hand, otherwise their lives will be turned upside down."

MDS has not yet decided how many volunteers they'll need to help in the aftermath of the Alberta flooding. Volunteers will spend a week to six months rebuilding.

In the past, they have slept anywhere from schools to churches to parking lots.

"Relationships are formed between homeowners and volunteers because we take time to talk to them and hear their stories," said Evelyn Peters-Rojas, project co-ordinator for MDS. "We sit down and have coffee with them because a relationship is just as important as building a home."

MDS networks through churches and recovery committees to see which families are most affected by the natural disaster, while other volunteers will head straight to the streets to clean up.

The organization has been in Minot, N.D., for the past two years since the flood in 2011 and is overseeing the reconstruction of five to six houses.

 

-- Elizabeth Fraser

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 4, 2013 A4

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