Kent transport

Van Raays hands over the reins after 20 years leading the Chatham-Kent chapter of Canadian Food for Children

A Chatham couple who led a grassroots effort that has helped thousands of people living in poverty in other countries are stepping back to let the younger generation pick up the slack.

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A Chatham couple who led a grassroots effort that has helped thousands of people living in poverty around the world are stepping back to let a younger generation pick up the slack.

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Sandra Van Raay first became involved with Canadian Food for Children 20 years ago while working in youth ministry to provide a volunteer opportunity for local teenagers.

She would take local youth to help out at Canadian Food for Children’s main warehouse in Mississauga, established by Dr. Andrew Simone and his wife Joan, who responded to a personal request from the now holy Mother Teresa to serve the poor. .

Locally, donations of food, clothing, school supplies, medical supplies, bedding, desks and chairs were collected from churches, schools and friends and sent to the poor in developing countries, mainly in Africa or Central and South America.

When Van Raay’s husband John retired 15 years ago from his law firm, she recalled he said they needed permanent space to expand the operation local.

“We looked for a garage and other small spaces,” she said with a laugh.

A local entrepreneur, Frank Van Oirschot, offered the chapter free use of 464 square meters (5,000 square feet) of storage space, prompting the move of the basement of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Chatham.

With the new ample space, the chapter began to grow by leaps and bounds.

John Van Raay said having this warehouse has taken the local operation “to a level beyond our expectations”.

During the first year there, they sent a transport trailer full of items overseas. From the second year, the volunteers sent three trailers.

Over the past 15 years, an average of 10 transport trailers filled with all kinds of medical and school supplies, clothing and food donations have been sent overseas by the local chapter.

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“The greatest joy was seeing the generosity of people in our community,” said Sandra Van Raay.

John Van Raay noted that the organization has become non-denominational, embracing support from several local churches, as well as donations coming in regularly from Amherstburg, Windsor, Sarnia, Petrolia and London.

Of Food for Children’s 10 Canadian chapters across Canada, Sandra Van Raay said Chatham-Kent has become one of the largest, alongside the main operation in Mississauga where donations are sent to be shipped to the whole world.

The couple believe the spirit of the world’s most famous nun, the late Mother Teresa, played a part in the success of the local operation. They also credited a legion of dedicated volunteers.

One such volunteer is Cindy Waddick, who has taken over as Local President.

The former chaplain of Ursuline College Chatham got involved with Canadian Food for Children as part of an outreach project for students.

“So from there I thought it was a great organization and when I retire I’d like to get involved, and here I am,” she said.

With such a strong base already in place, Waddick said her main goal as new president is to see growth “to get more and more donations so that we can send more and more stuff to the people who need”.

Now in the mid-80s, the Van Raays said it was time for young people to bring in some new ideas, including a more robust online presence, to help take the chapter to a new level.

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However, the couple plan to stay on as volunteers to help out in the warehouse.

Waddick said there was a team approach to running the Chatham-Kent Chapter, including a “fabulous” Board of Directors – Waddick, Vice President Heather Slavik, Secretary Francine DeMeyer and Treasurer Marvin Merritt – who makes decisions “together”.

Waddick said donations can be dropped off at the chapter’s warehouse on the far south end of Inshes Avenue in Chatham on Mondays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

More details about the organization and how to get involved are available online at www.canadianfoodforchildren-ck.com.

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