Helping families in crisis in Lebanon

Monday, November 09, 2020
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The explosion in Beirut’s port destroyed many homes and dwellings. More than 300,000 people have lost their homes. (Photo: Mennonite Central Committee)

Foodgrains Bank members provide emergency food to families affected by explosion in Beirut

Garry and Kate Mayhew were cleaning up after dinner in their Beirut, Lebanon apartment when they felt the ground shake beneath them. Then they heard a boom so loud and so powerful it threw them to the floor.

The Mayhews and their daughters, ages six and four, took shelter in the bathroom, away from whatever was happening outside.

“From my experience of living in Afghanistan for six years, I was almost sure this was an explosion from a bomb,” says Garry.

Except it wasn’t. The explosion was caused by improperly stored ammonium nitrate at Beirut’s port. It caused destruction throughout the city, destroying Lebanon’s main port where the country imported most of its food—as well as grain silos estimated to hold 85 percent of Lebanon’s grain stocks.

After the Mayhews’ children were reassured and calm, Garry and Kate, who are representatives for Foodgrains Bank member Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, checked in with their colleagues to make sure everyone was safe. Thankfully, they were.

Yet the destruction was widespread. Thousands of people were injured, over 200 people died and 300,000 people were left without homes. Many families in Lebanon were already facing hunger due to COVID-19 and economic collapse before the explosion.

“The needs are massive,” says Garry. “COVID-19 is an even bigger risk than it was because so many people are gathering in the streets.”

“One person just looked at us and said, ‘I have nothing. So I have nothing to get destroyed,’” adds Kate.

Over 6,000 people were injured by the explosion in the port of Beirut. (Photo: Mennonite Central Committee)

Canadians respond quickly and generously

In response to the overwhelming needs, the Canadian government matched donations to the Humanitarian Coalition and its members, including the Foodgrains Bank, dollar-for-dollar to a maximum of $8 million. From August 4-24, Canadians responded generously and quickly, donating over $10 million and securing the full matching commitment from the government. Donations to the Foodgrains Bank and our member churches and agencies reached over $2 million.

Thanks to this generosity and additional funding from the Humanitarian Coalition, the Foodgrains Bank is able to provide monthly food packages that include rice, beans, lentils and canned meat to 1,000 families through MCC.

“We do a lot with food already, so we are well positioned to scale up our program to meet food needs,” says Garry. “The needs are high here in Beirut, but we’re grateful for the generosity of Canadians who have enabled a quick response to meet immediate food needs of families affected.”

Linda Espenshade/Mennonite Central Committee (adapted)

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