Harold and Marianne Penner inspired many community and church groups in Manitoba to get involved in supporting efforts to help end hunger overseas. (Photo: Submitted)
As Harold Penner stared at his computer screen, he quickly counted and re-counted the numbers before him.
“I had exactly 25,” he says. “Couldn’t be 26, nor 24.”
The spreadsheet in front of him listed the 25 Manitoban communities that were coming together to grow and sell a crop in support of hungry people overseas.
It was then that I really knew this was not my work. It was God’s work—and I had the privilege to participate.
It was 2008, and Harold remembers the moment fondly. He had reached his goal of having 25 active growing projects to honour Canadian Foodgrains Bank’s 25th anniversary. Just 17 projects existed the year before. “It’s perhaps one of the best memories to share,” he says. “It was then that I really knew this was not my work. It was God’s work—and I had the privilege to participate.”
A lifetime of service
Harold had been participating years before that moment. In fact, he supported the Foodgrains Bank before it officially became the Foodgrains Bank.
Amid growing hunger emergencies worldwide in 1976, Mennonite Central Committee created a pilot project for Canadian grain farmers to share their harvests with people experiencing hunger around the world. Harold soon joined their efforts and began organizing grain donations near his farm in Arnaud. “We called them grain drives, and we’d arrange a date where farmers could bring their wheat to a seed plant to clean and bag it for shipping,” he says.
As Canadian farmers continued sharing their abundance, other Christian denominations became involved in MCC’s efforts, and Canadian Foodgrains Bank was officially formed in 1983. Harold organized Foodgrains Bank grain drives until 1997, when he and a group of Arnaud-area farmers started the HOPE growing project. The project has raised over $1.5 million for people experiencing hunger and continues strong today.
Invaluable role to the Foodgrains Bank
In 2003, with decades of volunteer hours under Harold’s belt, an opportunity to formalize his work with the Foodgrains Bank came when a position for Manitoba regional representative opened up. “It was an interesting time for me,” says Harold. “I was looking for an exit plan from active farming, and my son and daughter were both showing an interest in the farm.”
He had heard of other job opportunities around the same time—he even prepared a cover letter and resume for one—but Harold never applied for those. “My heart wasn’t in it,” he says. “But when the Foodgrains Bank position came along, I applied and was delighted when I was chosen. It felt like a good fit—I felt God called me to the task.”
As the Manitoba regional representative, Harold inspired many community and church groups in Manitoba to get involved in supporting efforts to help end hunger overseas.
Harold had an unparalleled ability to network and build strong support for the Foodgrains Bank amongst many Manitobans.
“It was a real privilege to get into communities I’ve never been,” says Harold. “For a Mennonite boy from a Mennonite church in small-town Manitoba to be speaking and worshipping in Anglican, Catholic, Adventist and many more churches was an awesome privilege.”
“Harold had an unparalleled ability to network and build strong support for the Foodgrains Bank amongst many Manitobans,” reflects Foodgrains Bank executive director Jim Cornelius. “During his time as regional representative, donations from Manitoban growing projects grew to over $2 million a year.”
Jim notes that Harold and his wife Marianne played key roles in ensuring the success of many events in Manitoba, including a world record-breaking event in Austin that saw 139 antique threshing machines operate together for 15 minutes.
“Harold and Marianne have been a force of profound good and have made an incredible impact on the lives of many hungry people overseas. Though Harold has retired from his official work with the Foodgrains Bank, I know we’ll keep crossing paths with him and Marianne as they continue their life of service.”
Harold Penner worked as the Manitoba regional representative for Canadian Foodgrains Bank from 2003-17 and the regional representative coordinator from 2017-19. To get involved in efforts to end global hunger, contact the regional representative in your province!
-Shaylyn McMahon, Communications Officer