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After more than 15 years of operation, Mennonite Central Canada (MCC) is closing down its Low German program, based in Winkler. 

The organization has been forced to make the move in anticipation of lower revenues being generated by MCC's thrift stores across Canada. MCC is projecting losses of close to $800,000 for next year on thrift store operations across the country.

Dropping programs like Indigenous Neighbours, Restorative Justice and programs for Low German Mennonites will save the organization about $350,000.

Closing the Low German office will eliminate two jobs, including the program coordinator position that has been held by Tina Fehr-Kehler.2019 02 tina fehr kehler

The Low German program was originally started by members of the local community and eventually came under the oversight of MCC.

"The program provides a level of documentation work for Low German people who are coming from Mexico, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Belize who have access to services ... and in many cases have Canadian citizenship," said Deborah Martin-Koop, Program Director for MCC Manitoba.

The move also marks a shift in MCC's focus as it begins to allocate more funding toward international works. A decision was made in 2017 to allocate 55 percent of undesignated donations to overseas programming, resulting in less for Canadian programs next year.

"It came as a bit of a surprise that we would be needing to make cuts as drastic as we are making, but that's often how it happens in a non-profit organization," said Koop-Martin.

But, she admits, times have changed and the services they were offering to Low German families are now being provided by other organizations in the local community.

According to Martin-Koop, the Low German program was already beginning to shift its focus more toward building links between local service providers and Low German Mennonite families.

"Over the years schools, social services, health services have all gained a better understanding of the needs of the Low German Mennonite community that comes and goes across our borders. So, people will find services now that they didn't find 15 years ago, or they will find people that can provide them with some of that help."

While MCC has had a lot of success in providing support for those families as they transitioned to life here in southern Manitoba, Martin-Koop gives full credit to the local people in the area.

"I think we need to recognize that communities have been extremely welcoming. Also, as more people arrive here, those families will then help other families to adapt, to connect and set down roots. Churches have also be instrumental in helping people to settle as well as businesses that have provided work for people to be able to live here with dignity."

The Low German program office in Winkler will continue to provide services until the end of March. Staff will begin sorting through files and archiving materials as they move through the spring months. It will officially wrap up operations in June.

Martin-Koop says a Networking Conference for Service Providers slated for May 23 and focusing on the health and safety of Low German Mennonites will go ahead as scheduled.

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