First Executive Director of Canadian Foodgrains Bank Dies at 93

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

First Executive Director of Canadian Foodgrains Bank Dies at 93

Wilbert Loewen, the first executive director of Canadian Foodgrains Bank, passed away February 2. He was 93.

Loewen played a vital role in the establishment of the Foodgrains Bank. After a full career in the Manitoba school system, he was asked in 1979 to head up the recently established Mennonite Central Committee Food Bank, which was facilitating the donation of grain by farmers to be sent overseas.

He traveled across the country growing support from Canadian farmers, and soon negotiated an agreement with the Canadian Wheat Board, which helped expand the program.

The Canadian Foodgrains Bank was established as a separate organization in 1983 to facilitate the participation of other churches and church agencies in the program. Loewen was asked to serve as the first executive director, and served in this capacity until 1990.

According to those who knew Loewen during those years, his hard work, dedication and determination helped shaped the organization into what it is today.

John Wieler directed international programming for Mennonite Central Committee Canada at the time Loewen was leading the Mennonite Central Committee Food Bank. For him, Loewen’s dedication to the cause of ending global hunger and helping people in need “propelled the program and organization forward. He was always loyal, and committed to the tasks at hand.”

Loewen “worked hard, never gave up on ideas, and was always driven to complete projects that he deemed as beneficial to others,” he adds. “He was fearless.”

Wieler attributes Loewen’s passion for the Foodgrains Bank and its mission to his deep faith commitment.

“He was thoroughly committed to serving God and the people around him,” Wieler says, adding that “he was very open to including all groups. He was not selective in his work with people.”

Loewen’s dedication is also something remembered by Jim Cornelius, current executive director of the Foodgrains Bank.

“When a job needed to be done, Bert could be counted on to get it done, always keeping in mind the ultimate goal of fighting global hunger,” he says.

“When others may have given up, he did not. If there was a problem to be solved, or a particular task to be accomplished, that was a reason for him to get up in the morning.”

Cornelius also remembers how Loewen inspired Canadians to join him in the mission of the Foodgrains Bank.

“Bert had tremendous vision and energy, and was able to inspire farmers across Canada to join this new venture,” he says. “As I travel across the country today, people still ask about Bert, and remember him fondly.”

Loewen’s vision and hard work played a vital role in building a solid foundation for the development of the Foodgrains Bank into one of Canada’s leading agencies dealing with global hunger, Cornelius adds.

Loewen’s interest in the issue of hunger, and the fortunes of the Foodgrains Bank, didn’t end when he left the organization.

“Long after he had retired at the Foodgrains Bank, he would still call or drop into the office, wanting to know what was happening,” says Cornelius. “He was in our office just four days before he died asking about how we were responding to the Syrian crisis. It was always a pleasure to talk about the programs and let him know that millions of people had improved access to food as a result of the work of the Foodgrains Bank—news he delighted in.”

During a visit last year, when he was thanked for what he had done to help create the Foodgrains Bank, Loewen downplayed his role.

“Don’t play up my contribution,” he said. “It’s all about the people who support the Foodgrains Bank.”

In 2010, Loewen was the recipient of the Order of Manitoba, the province’s highest honor, largely because of the vital role he played in the establishment of the Foodgrains Bank.

Today, the Foodgrains Bank is providing over $40 million in annual assistance around the world, providing food where it is needed, and supporting the efforts of households and communities to improve their farming, livelihoods and nutrition. In 2015, over one million people were assisted in 39 countries.

Canadian Foodgrains Bank continues to receive generous support from thousands of farmers and other Canadians from Atlantic Canada to British Columbia.

Read Loewen’s Winnipeg Free Press obituary.