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Cross-border sugar donation for Winnipeg church stopped by Canadian customs

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A Winnipeg church's attempt to spread holiday cheer amid a nationwide sugar shortage took an unexpected turn as their 500-pound sugar donation was turned away at the U.S. border this week.

Pastor Rod Giesbrecht of the Tabor Baptist Church said his congregation decided to address the current sugar shortage in Canada by bringing some of the sweet stuff up from the states. Giesbrecht drove south of the border and bought 125 bags of sugar, totaling 500 pounds, from a Grand Forks grocery store.

Giesbrecht expected it to be a straightforward trip. "We’ll go down, we’ll buy some sugar in the states since you can’t get it here, and we’ll give some to the Transcona Council for Seniors because some of our ladies may want to make cookies with their grandchildren," he said. "And the rest, we’ll give to the Transcona Food Bank."

But the sweet goodwill trip faced an unexpected hurdle at the border as the sugar was denied entry into Canada due to concerns about its safety for consumption.

Giesbrecht was surprised at the stop, having pre-checked with Canadian customs ahead of time. But, he complied with the customs officers' orders.

"They told me to take it back to the U.S., 'you can not bring it into Canada,'" said Giesbrecht. "They gave me a little piece of paper and I went back through American customs and went to a parcel pickup business in Pembina."

Disappointed by the setback, Giesbrecht decided to ensure the sugar did not go to waste. He worked with local authorities and the parcel pickup business to redirect the sugar to the Grand Forks Food Bank.

"I just knew I didn’t want to see it in the ditch," he said. "So I asked them what they could do with it, and they said, ‘well, maybe we can give some to people that come here.'"

Giesbrecht said the food bank offered to reimburse the church for the sugar. He said they may end up accepting half of the amount, with the intention of contributing it to a Winnipeg food bank.

He encourages grocery shoppers to buy an extra bag of sugar this holiday season and donate it to a food hamper.

"It’s not a lot, and just put it in the hamper you see on your way out," said Giesbrecht. "And maybe some mother or grandmother or grandfather for all I know, might do some Christmas baking and make a memory that will last a lifetime with a child."

- With files from CTV's Daniel Halmarson

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