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Christmas trees carry on a charitable legacy

Yvonne Lewis Langlois
Dewittville resident Sharon Weippert sits at her dining room table and surveys the array of newspapers covering it. The multitude of clippings bears testament to her late husband Nelson’s 22-year mission to raise money for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. She pulls out one article: “This is the one,” she says. The weathered newspaper page, dated Oct. 9, 1997, is from The Western Producer. This is the story that first caught her husband’s attention. The headline reads, “Saskatchewan town unites in food bank effort” and tells the story of how farmers from Ituna, Sask., harvested 260 acres of oats for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Around the same time, Nelson saw a similar article in Canadian Geographic magazine. Again, the article related how farmers raised crops for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. “It all came together at the same time, “ Sharon states. In an article for the Quebec Farmers’ Advocate newspaper, Nelson explained what happened next: “When you are out plowing on your tractor, you have a lot of time to think.” So from then on Nelson would be thinking of different ways to raise money for this cause.

Sharon Weippert stands amid trees she and her late husband Nelson planted years ago with the aim of raising money for international famine relief and food security. A few are ready to be cut this year for Christmas trees. (PHOTO: Yvonne Lewis Langlois)

“Food should not be a luxury” is the motto of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, a partnership of 15 Canadian churches and church-based agencies working together to end global hunger. The founding agency was the Mennonite Central Committee; it formed the MCC Food Bank in 1975, basing its mission on the “Joseph principle” from the Old Testament, i.e., the storing up of grain in good years to provide for bad times. One year later the Canadian Foodgrains Bank was conceived when the MCC created a pilot project that would enable Canadian grain farmers to share their harvest and help alleviate world hunger. In 1983 the project was reconfigured to include many church agencies. When the CFGB was fully formed in 1984 it was able to address the Ethiopian famine of the same year.
In the beginning, farmers from across Canada donated grain that was transported by boat to countries in need. This was, in part, because of Canadian government regulations that stipulated that the food supplied be from Canada. In 2008 these restrictions were lifted and CFGB could now use funds more efficiently to buy food closer to countries in need.

Within the Chateauguay Valley, 12 churches are involved in supporting the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. (PHOTO: Yvonne Lewis Langlois)

In recent years assistance is given in different ways. Sometimes cash or food vouchers are given. Food baskets that contain food staples are distributed and sometimes, if those in need have farmland, seed or livestock is given. In this way those receiving the aid are able to support themselves and their communities.
Nelson brought the Canadian Foodgrains Bank here in 1998. The first plot of land in the Chateauguay Valley dedicated to growing hay for the cause was six acres of land that belonged to Huntingdon resident Ian Gill. The hay project raised $330.
From hay auctions to concerts to Rent-an-Acre, apple picking, soup and bread luncheons to hymn sings, Nelson came up with so many different ways to raise funds.
In the Christmas season of 2000 and with the help of Christopher Pennington, Nelson and Sharon created a CD of Christmas music. “This was the hardest fundraiser,” Sharon says. Voices from the Valley assembled 12 choirs from local schools and churches to record Christmas carols. Sharon recalls that they all came together without knowing what music each group would be performing. And yet, rather astonishingly, she says, “No two were singing the same song.”
The government of Canada matches contributions to Canadian Foodgrains Bank on a four-to-one basis with a ceiling of $25 million. In 2016 Nelson reported that over the previous 14 years the Valley had raised $100,000, which resulted in a donation of $500,000 to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
Today the Canadian Foodgrains Bank comprises 30 denominations and 17,000 congregations. Within the Chateauguay Valley, 12 local churches continue to raise money for this cause every year.

Nelson Weippert began fundraising for Canadian Foodgrains Bank in 1998 (PHOTO: Norm Rennie)

When Nelson died last spring he passed the torch to two friends from Rockburn Presbyterian Church and asked them to carry on his work. If you would like to become involved, please contact Rockburn Presbyterian Church through the website www.rockburnpresbyterian.org.

Nelson’s final fundraiser was the sale of Christmas trees from his farm. He affectionately called them his “Charlie Brown trees.” Sharon still has a few for sale. If you would like a Weippert tree call Sharon at 450-264-6764 for an appointment to go harvest your tree. Donations of $20 will go to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

 

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