LITITZ, Pa. — Mennonite Disaster Service has closed all current projects and suspended all summer programs due to COVID-19.
“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,” said executive director Kevin King.
The decision to close the current projects was hard, King said, but the right one.
“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 said.
“My deepest thanks and appreciation goes out to all who managed to shut things down at such short notice,” he said, adding local contractors were contacted to finish up some jobs so people could move back into their homes.
The decision to suspend operations was also difficult, he said, but also the right one under the circumstances.
“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.,” he said.
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 said. “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,” King said. “We hope so, but nothing is certain.”
He noted the organization will closely follow recommendations from federal, state and provincial governments, along with health authorities, in making any decisions about restarting programs.
“The health and safety of our volunteers is our main priority,” King said, adding they also want to be careful not to contribute to spreading the virus by sending volunteers out across Canada and the U.S.
If a disaster occurs during the suspension, MDS will carefully evaluate whether it is safe for volunteers to respond.
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 staff, will continue until June, at which time the situation will be re-evaluated.
For staff in the U.S., MDS has a considerable amount of work backlogged from the busy winter season of operating 16 disaster- response locations, along with other needed long-term office projects. The situation for U.S. staff will also be reviewed in mid-summer.
“Our hope is to begin again in fall, if that is possible,” King said. “If that happens, we will need all our staff ready to go in July so we can rebuild homes and hope.”
King went on to invite 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 also for the leaders of the U.S. and Canada, and all who are involved in health care in any way,” he said. “It is a difficult and challenging time for everyone.”