While rising COVID-19 case counts and cold temperatures had many Winnipegers keeping their social circles small during the winter holidays, the University of Winnipeg Students Association (UWSA) and Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre both held community outreach initiatives to spread some support.
Jonathan Henderson, vice-president external affairs with the UWSA, coordinated the Hot Meals for Unsheltered Relatives Initiative, a project which distributed over 300 hot meals from Feast Cafe Bistro to unsheltered people residing near Thunderbird House on Dec. 21.
Henderson led a similar initiative in 2020, when he put out a call for donations during a cold spell that corresponded with the second wave of COVID-19.
“One day, some students got together two carloads of donations in two hours and enough money to purchase 70 hot dogs from Costco, and we gave them to the shack collecting donations by Thunderbird House,” Henderson says. “This year, I wanted to do something a little more formal with a little more time, not just a spur-of-the-moment thing like last year.”
The initiative received contributions from the UWSA, University of Winnipeg, Canadian Federation of Students – Manitoba and University of Winnipeg Sustainability Office. Henderson says there are plans for additional initiatives in 2022.
“We’ve seen a lot of talk about unsheltered relatives in the past year, and the bus shacks as shelters. Especially with COVID, we just wanted to do something to give back,” he says. “I know it’s not solving all of the problems, but this has a ripple effect as well when we give back. A simple idea can go a long way and inspire others to do their simple ideas.”
Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre also held a community support initiative in December: their annual toy drive and holiday dinner. Angeline Nelson, their director of community learning and engagement, says the event has been going on for longer than the six years that she’s been at the centre.
“The toy drive is a big part of this event. We want to make sure we’re supporting families during the challenging times of the holidays,” Nelson says. “With COVID, it’s even more important to host an event like this, because there’s been some limited support available.”
The event serves over 200 participants, some who are registered with Wii Chiiwaakanak and others from other programs who may benefit from the event. Under pandemic conditions, it includes a meal delivery, gifts for children in the household and activities for families to do together, such as board games or cookie-making kits.
Whether virtual or in-person, the holiday dinner and toy drive is always a collaborative effort. This year, Wii Chiiwaakanak partnered with Diversity Food Services, which provided the dinners, and Urban Systems, which Nelson notes did an especially good job of ensuring that there were gifts and entertainment suited for older children.
The University of Winnipeg staff and faculty contributed the most donations to the dinner and toy drive this year, and Nelson says Wii Chiiwaakanak is “really grateful for their continued support.” Les Marmiton and the Office of Indigenous Engagement at the university also made significant contributions.
Published in Volume 76, Number 13 of The Uniter (January 13, 2022)