Bob Lebold made his first donation to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) when he was about 10 years old. It was Christmas, sometime in the late 1960s, when he tagged along to the MCC centre in Kitchener with his mom Elaine, who was the material aid supervisor. His task was to help sort and bale clothing to be shipped overseas.
The room was warm, so young Bob removed his sweater to cool off. It was a beautiful brand-new sweater he had received for Christmas from his parents. When the work was done a couple of hours later, he discovered his sweater was missing. “Was it a nice green one?” asked Floyd Martin, one of the volunteers. “Well, you just packed it in a bale. It’s going overseas!”
“Mom and Dad didn’t buy me another new one,” recalls Bob with a laugh.
The loss of his sweater notwithstanding, the work his mother did, and the mission of MCC, left an impression on Bob, and many years later he returned to MCC to take on the same role his mother had held, now called material resources coordinator.
“Coming back to the building that Mom worked in, it felt good,” he says. “And when I got the job, it was an answer to prayer. I felt like I belonged.”
Now retired, Bob remains in close contact with the current material resources coordinator—his son Jon.
“Honestly, I didn’t know that Grandma did this work back in the day until I called her to tell her about my new job, and she goes, ‘Oh, you’ve got my old job!’” says Jon with a laugh.
Beth Hovius, Jon’s sister, also works at MCC Ontario, in the revenue development department as a donor stewardship associate, where she makes sure that donors know that their generosity is making a real and lasting impact in the world.
Elaine has many fond memories of her 13 years at MCC, but her love for the work always came back to two things: the mission and the people. “We felt like we were a family,” she says. “It was a feeling I’d never had before nor since. And I’ve had a number of jobs since. I just knew I was doing the thing I was needing to do.”
Elaine’s legacy at MCC Ontario includes not only her family following in her footsteps, but an insightful decision to start including what is now an icon of MCC in the shipments: the comforter. “Some of the shirts we received weren’t fit for shipping, so our ladies would cut those shirts into patches and make comforters with them,” she explains.
Today, comforters are as symbolic and important as ever. Last year, MCC shipped 63,841 comforters from Canada and the U.S.
Back then, shipments included homemade and store-bought soap, health kits, sewing kits and bandages, as well as once-a-year “Christmas bundles” for children between the ages of four and 16. These bundles included a blouse or jumper and a skirt for girls, or a pair of pants and a shirt for boys, as well as a pair of socks, a toy, a bar of soap, a comb and a toothbrush. These were all wrapped up in a towel and pinned with a safety pin.
“When we sent these Christmas bundles, we would receive cards of thanks,” Elaine says. Nearly 40 years later, thinking back to that gratitude makes her emotional. “And it almost breaks my heart when I think of how thankful these people were for so little, compared to what we had.”
As donor stewardship associate, the essence of Beth’s job is relaying that thanks from recipients to donors. “It’s such a great feeling to show donors that we all had a hand in this,” she says. “We couldn’t do this without the volunteers, without the donors. . . . It’s awesome!”
All four Lebolds agree that working at MCC was, and is, a blessing. “You forget that people call this a job,” says Jon. “It’s so rewarding.”
Elaine now lives in North Bay with her husband Laverne, but her heart remains close to the work of MCC. As for her children and grandchildren working at MCC, she feels what many Mennonites are shy to profess: pride. “I’m very proud that they are carrying on the torch that I started. And I want them to know that I’m extremely happy for them and I wish the Lord’s blessing on them every day.”
Jon Lebold, Beth Hovius and Bob Lebold agree that continuing the legacy of their mother and grandmother at MCC has been a blessing. (MCC photo by Shoua Vang)