Windsor-Essex County in southwestern Ontario has drawn a plethora of attention during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to ongoing outbreaks and high occurrences of infections in specific sectors, the virus is still taking quite a toll in the region, despite the efforts of many.
The ongoing measures to stifle the spread of the virus are beginning to wear on citizens. But local leaders are stepping up to bring grassroots solutions to the fore. That’s exactly what Hugo Tiessen and Fiona Brown have done at Leamington United Mennonite Church.
“The Oak Street Helps Fund was started about four years ago to help families in need, and we’ve helped a number of families in the past,” says Tiessen, the church’s finance committee chair. “Now we can build on that foundation and make this a bigger and better effort to help in these times. It brings us back to our roots of helping one another, standing by each other and particularly helping those in need.”
On July 1, Tiessen, and Brown, the church’s treasurer, announced the initiative to greatly increase giving to the Oak St. Helps Fund—by $50,000 by September. When it was noticed that economic disruption was leading to financial challenges, along with emotional stress and anxiety, they saw an opportunity to provide some relief.
“We’re not immune to the job loss and the emotional suffering,” says Tiessen. “When we suffer we need to look after our people. I especially think of Matthew 25:35 as inspiration for this effort—“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink . . .”—It speaks to who we are as a church.”
“In March, when we closed our doors and the world declared a global pandemic, we had a lot of concerns,” he says. “We were very concerned about having no offering. We were worried about reaching our budget, but we quickly turned a crisis into an opportunity. Our church team put together very good online services that served the community members here and members who live far away. We quickly realized that people were responding in a very positive way. We raised a surprising amount of money in April and a couple of us thought that the church could do even more. We were convinced that members would go above and beyond regular giving to support this fund.”
The fund is specifically in place to help out church members who have been the most adversely affected by these challenging times. Some have lost jobs or had hours cut significantly, and will come to need financial support to make mortgage, rent, grocery and other essential payments. Others need to access mental-health services to work through stress, anxiety and the many losses sustained in this time.
Even in the middle of this global crisis, Tiessen sees a silver lining. “We’re very much a world where we are ‘me’ oriented,” he says. “It’s a very individualistic society. I think this is an opportunity to work as a team rather than as individuals. This pandemic can be a wake-up call to motivate us to work together.”
The COVID-19 funds will be dispersed to those in need in the fall.
Zach Charbonneau is a pastor of Leamington United Mennonite Church.