Canadian Food for Children looking for new home to continue helping world's poor

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A legion of volunteers – mainly seniors – have worked over the last 15 years to send more than 125 tractor-trailer loads of food, clothing, medical supplies, wheelchairs, bicycles and school supplies to developing nations.

John and Sandra Van Raay, who founded the Chatham-Kent chapter of Canadian Food for Children, say that work will continue, but they need to find new one-level warehouse space to make it easier on volunteers.

The local chapter has worked out of about 930 square metres (10,000 square feet) of space in the basement and section of the main floor of a building Frank Van Oirschot has generously let them use for free on Inshes Avenue in Chatham, but it’s now time to move on.

John Van Raay said about 557 square metres (6,000 square feet) of space would suit their needs, but they could go down to 278 to 371 square metres (3,000 to 4,000 square feet). He added they need a facility with a washroom and some heating.

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He said getting the space for free would be great, but the charitable organization can pay some rent, as well as provide an gift-in-kind receipt.

Sandra Van Raay, who founded the Chatham-Kent chapter of Canadian Food for Children with her husband John 15 years ago, proudly displays photos of children from developing nations that have benefited from clothes, school supplies, medicine and food donated by area residents and businesses. Ellwood Shreve/Chatham Daily News/Postmedia Network
Sandra Van Raay, who founded the Chatham-Kent chapter of Canadian Food for Children with her husband John 15 years ago, proudly displays photos of children from developing nations that have benefited from clothes, school supplies, medicine and food donated by area residents and businesses. Ellwood Shreve/Chatham Daily News/Postmedia Network Photo by Ellwood Shreve /Ellwood Shreve/The Daily News

The two were inspired to start a local chapter of Canadian Food for Children, which was founded in 1985 by Toronto dermatologist Dr. Andrew Simone and his wife Joan after they were personally asked by Mother Teresa of Calcutta to help the world’s poor.

John Van Raay said the local effort began by sending three tractor-trailer loads a year, which reached a peak of 16 loads in some years. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers are still managing to send out eight tractor-trailer loads annually, weighing anywhere from 11,300 kilograms to 20,400 kilograms.

“What this has done for me is overwhelm me with the kindness and generosity of people,” Sandra Van Raay said.

In addition to the volunteers who help sort, clean, organize and pack up the donations, the Van Raays said there are other teams of volunteers across the region who offer their knitting and sewing talents.

“We have many ladies who love to knit and sew. …  If we can get them the material, they will knit and sew blankets and clothes,” John Van Raay said.

Their efforts also help divert “a lot of stuff” from landfills, Sandra Van Raay said, noting an average of 600 used backpacks are donated annually that are sent overseas full of school supplies.

The Van Raays said the non-denominational organization has developed many partnerships, including with the Salvation Army, the newLIFE Thrift Store and the Sweets n’ Seconds consignment store to collect clothing that doesn’t sell but is welcomed overseas.

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Canadian Food for Children also works with Bulk Barn in Chatham and Anderson’s  – formerly Thompsons – in Blenheim to buy food and also receive food donations that are sent to countries in Africa, Central and South America and Caribbean countries, including Haiti.

The Gleaners in Leamington provide a dried soup mix, with the latest donation estimated to make 330,000 bowls of soup.

Canadian Food for Children has a partnership with Maxhill Pharmaceutical Company in St. Thomas for supplies, including bandages as well as toothbrushes and toothpaste, to ship overseas.

Those interested in providing warehouse space can contact Canadian Food for Children volunteers at 519-352-6659 or 519-351-3685.

eshreve@postmedia.com

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