For Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), COVID-19 has had a significant impact on operations.
It started on March 13, when the organization closed all current projects in locations across the United States due to the coronavirus; there were no projects in operation in Canada. A week later, it suspended all summer programs in both countries.
“It has been a turbulent and challenging time for all of us at MDS, as it has for everyone in the U.S., Canada and the whole world,” says executive director Kevin King. The decision to close the current projects was hard, but the right one, according to King. “We knew it would put a lot of stress on volunteers as they said hurried goodbyes to homeowners and local partners, along with having to quickly close things up,” he says.
“Although we can’t predict the future, everything we hear from the federal and state governments and public health authorities tells us the pandemic is going to take time to work its way through Canada and the U.S.,” King says.
By suspending summer youth, family and other projects in both countries, “we took a lot of stress and anxiety off of volunteers who were wondering if they should still plan to serve” he says. “Now they know what the near future holds for them with MDS.”
As for whether MDS will be able to start up again in fall, “only God knows,” says King. “We hope so, but nothing is certain.”
If a disaster occurs during the suspension, MDS will carefully evaluate whether it is safe for volunteers to respond, he says.
As for MDS staff, in Canada three of the six staff who work in the Winnipeg office will be laid off; they will receive government unemployment benefits, topped-up by MDS. The others, one full-time and two part-time, will continue until June, at which time the situation will be re-evaluated.
King invites supporters and others to pray for MDS, and for other Mennonite organizations, denominations, schools, churches and other groups impacted by the pandemic. “I also invite people to pray for the leaders of the U.S. and Canada, and all who are involved in health care in any way,” he says. “It is a difficult and challenging time for everyone.”
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