Unexpected Gifts

A Report on Cooking for a Community through the Food Share


By Sharon Steward


In what was our 9th summer of camp ministry, our family was given a reprieve of island life. Certainly not planned, or easy, but gifted none the less. Our three boys experienced a summer taken straight out of my own childhood on the farm in the prairies with daily garden work and yard chores. They had not known a summer beyond camp, and it was good. For certain, we had days in which great longings were felt, mostly for the water and adventures in the woods. Neil and I felt blessed by a capable and eager team who were happy to manage the site, while we worked from home. Through the season, such minimal numbers could be at camp and so with the five of us staying at home, more young people could soak in the much-needed peace that is felt when on MacKinnon Island. While we hope that it won’t happen again, we will fondly remember our summer of 2020 experience.


It was March and the stress of putting on the annual Spring Celebration event was thick. By Friday morning, March 13 I knew we had to pull the plug. As we flew into action cancelling orders and volunteers, what followed was the biggest change of plans that any of us has ever experienced.

In those beginning weeks, my first thoughts were that we needed to do something tangible to help caregivers and pastors, to ease the burdens of heightened needs. God’s direction was clear and pointed. It was the kids’ bedtime on Wednesday, April 8th when I missed a phone call from a church friend. He was suggesting we apply for a grant for a food program; the deadline was midnight that night. I’d happened to read about that same program earlier in the afternoon and still had it open on my computer. Neil and I took the partial project plan that I had begun and submitted the application, with minutes to spare. While waiting news on the grant approval, we costed menu and packing plans, added the Food Share information and sales options onto the VOLUME website, and arranged with our home church to use space to run our program twice a week. April 17th was a test run; we partnered with several of our camp-connected churches to aid them in caring for households in their communities and packed a week’s worth of groceries and meals for 10 households. By the following week, we had full approval of our program and funds to run for at least two months.
This was a time of great relief for our small staff team. Some of us could gather in person to pack, catch up a bit, talk about the current plan for the summer, and get out of the confines of our homes. It was a good time of connecting with those who had placed personal orders and with the folks who were picking up for church deliveries. Fridays were busy with orders often for up to 15 households, while Wednesdays sometimes were slow enough that just Nikolai and I went in to receive our shipment and pre-pack dry goods and spice kits. As time went on group sizes increased and we were able to train a few volunteers. That was good, as we also were receiving the food weekly to send to those at camp as well. With individual donations and church support, our program ran through the summer. The LIT’s came and packed dry goods for their canoe trip as well as all of the snacks for the A Rocha day camp programs. When most of my packing team ended up on-island, God provided new volunteers of young people who would have otherwise been at camp, or just needed something new to do. Some words of encouragement from Joy who joined us for many weeks, ‘Thank you for all your work with this project. You have been able to feed strangers in need, engage others in meal planning, educate us all, have good interaction with the Sysco drivers, while providing an MPC community in Winnipeg in ways that were unknown to us all in this covid-19 world.’
In just 16 weeks, we worked together with ministry partners to impact over 250 households and distributed over 20,000 meals to families in need. We gave away over 100 copies of Volume: Cooking for a Community so that meals could be prepared using our camp recipes. “While a week of groceries was a wonderful gift, I was so glad to see my daughter want to cook when we received a copy of your book” says one recipient.


The next phase of our food aid program brings us to building Christmas hampers, as the needs increase while the pandemic hits deeply here in southern Manitoba. While our grant funding has been fully utilized, we expect to receive donated food items, and continue to ask for the community to partner with our program by purchasing hampers for themselves or for us to distribute. Our lists are long, and hopes are big. We will contribute a copy of our camp cookbook, Volume: Cooking for a Community to every new recipient of our Food Share program. You can partner with this project by purchasing a cookbook, or a hamper. If you’d like to help with delivery of the Christmas hampers, please send me an e-mail, we’d love to have some extra hands!


Looking back with thanksgiving, and looking forwards in great hope, it is evident that God had a plan for this project, that our book was published even for the reason to be used as a gift and a tool for this food aid program, and that at the very least we can continue to have big expectations for our God who knew that this time would be now.


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Neil and Sharon Steward have served with InterVarsity at Pioneer Camp Manitoba since March of 2012. Their boys Nikolai (12), Zachary (9), and Samuel (6) love being camp kids and working alongside their parents. In the off-season, they live on an acreage near Winnipeg.


Email Sharon: [email protected]

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