John and Corina Ardelean know what it’s like to depend on others for help.
Both are from refugee families of the 1989 Romanian Revolution.
Corina’s parents were forced to leave her and two of her sisters behind with their grandparents while they escaped to Canada to make a better life for their family.
“My dad was in the Romanian Army and he was found to be a Christian, which was illegal,” explained Corina, who along with her siblings would not see their parents for another two years – following them to Vancouver in 1991.
John’s older sister escaped from Romania in 1990 with her husband and sponsored the rest of the family – including John, his parents and siblings – in 1992.
When they arrived, their families, explained Corina, depended on the local food bank. They were people who could barely wait for their next hamper delivery, not knowing what you were going to eat.
But it was their past that shaped the people they were to become.
Now they are the ones feeding and helping people who are struggling to put food on the table and make ends meet.
In September last year, the couple launched a ministry called City Serve through Christian Life Assembly, (CLA), in Maple Ridge, and they are delivering more than 500 lbs of food weekly to locals in need.
John and Corina knew they wanted to help people in whatever community they were to call home.
Seven years ago the couple sold their house in Coquitlam and moved to Maple Ridge because they felt a calling to do missionary work.
About five years ago they began working as local missionaries in Surrey where they attended a Romanian church. Then, about two and a half years ago, they started their work in Maple Ridge – a bread night at Wildwood Fellowship Church in Whonnock. Every Tuesday they would pick up end-of-the-day bread from Cobs in Mission and bring it to the church where they would divide it up before distributing it to those in need.
But, it was not until they took a Launch Leadership course by CLA Pastor Mark Colwell that they knew they wanted to make their bread night into something more.
“At the end of the six week course you had to launch a ministry,” explained Corina.
The couple knew they wanted to provide families with fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, oil changes, furniture, whatever they could get their hands on.
When they approached Pastor Colwell with the idea he suggested launching City Serve, a CLA ministry that had already been running for a number of years at the church in Langley. City Serve, as a whole, explained Colwell, is whatever they do as a church to minister the needs in the community, and move people from the church into local missionary activity.
In September the church held a day where 65 volunteers cleaned the streets of Maple Ridge. Right now they are working on a mission to deliver Valentine’s Day cards to residents of Baillie House.
However, over the past eight months, Colwell said, the Ardelean’s have “birthed something incredibly new.”
“Because of their passion, and the people that they have brought around them, we are now delivering groceries to the families every week,” he said.
Through their connections with Cobs, Save-On Foods in Surrey and the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, the Ardelean’s are able to feed about eight families locally, with the rest of the food packed into hampers for anywhere between 15 and 19 Sudanese refugee families living in Abbotsford and Mission.
Colwell was able to renovate a room at the church for the Ardelean’s to operate their mission out of. A single donor gave them money for an industrial-sized commercial fridge and freezer.
From Monday to Wednesday, the couple will collect the food and stock the fridge and freezer as they receive it.
On Wednesday they help out the Middle Eastern Friendship Centre in Surrey, where they also help Syrian refugees, by picking up food at Save On Foods and delivering it, bringing food back to Maple Ridge as well. Then Wednesday afternoon they set up the room at the church like a grocery store and allow clients, one at a time, to enter, picking up the items they need.
And they never have to set limits.
“They always think of the person coming in after them,” said Corina, adding they usually have to encourage families to take more.
They also do not screen their clients. Families are referred to them by word-of-mouth.
“They vouch for each other,” noted Corina.
In addition to groceries, Corina and John also hand out gift certificates for grocery stores, oil changes and to stores in malls – whatever they can get their hands on.
“People that we help are just extraordinary people,” said Corina, “They just find themselves in a situation that they don’t want to be in.”
And, she said, because of the calling they have in their lives, they are able to help them in a non-judgmental way while preserving their dignity.
Anyone wishing to donate can go to the church’s website at clamapleridge.com.or drop off gift certificates at the church office, 11756 232 Street.