A fundraising dinner to help people affected by the current war in Ukraine began with a man who had vivid memories of leaving Ukraine as a five-year-old in the mid-1940s. The man phoned Gerd Bartel, a well-known member of Peace Mennonite Church in Richmond, with the simple question, “What can we do to help people in Ukraine?”
That call coincided with planning by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) B.C. for its annual spring dinner and constituent events, the first ones since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Bartel, in turn, contacted Wayne Bremner, MCC B.C.’s executive director, and advancement director Jet Takaoka, saying, “We have an idea for an event to help people in Ukraine.” A small, dedicated group from Peace Mennonite began meeting with MCC B.C. personnel to plan and recruit.
The result was “An Evening for Ukraine” on May 7, hosted by Peace Mennonite and MCC B.C. Approximately 300 people attended a Ukrainian-themed dinner that included the music of Lorin Friesen and Helen Suderman; a presentation of MCC’s history in Ukraine; and response to the crisis from MCC Canada board chair Ron Ratzlaff; and a moving prayer for peace led by Bremner.
In one of the more moving moments of the evening, the audience was asked, “How many of us trace our family roots, our parents, or grandparents, to Ukraine?” Two-thirds of the people in the room responded with raised hands. The sense of connection with people suffering and the desire to help in the face of calamity were palpable.
The result was more than $220,000 given to fund MCC’s ongoing relief work with people displaced by the violence in Ukraine.
“The results of that evening were beyond what we at MCC could have accomplished just by ourselves,” said Takaoka. “It is incredible what can happen when a few committed people come together at a grassroots level to do good in our world. The generosity we saw that evening is humbling.”
The man who made the initial phone call declined the opportunity to speak that evening. “It would be too emotional,” he said. Like so many of his generation, he prefers quiet anonymity. But his simple call will mean help and hope for countless people from Ukraine whose lives have been turned upside down.