“It felt like Christmas.”

September 8, 2023


Athynia's family didn’t have to sleep on the floor anymore after connecting with a donor-supported furniture bank

Athynia is a tiny, mighty, bright ray of sunshine. At 19 years old, she helps collect and distribute household items for families in need at Oyate Tipi Cumini Yape—Winnipeg’s furniture bank.

It’s work intimately close to Athynia’s heart, since her own past experience echoes the same painful struggles as others who turn to the organization for help.

“Seven years ago, I was homeless with my dad and my mom and my little sister,” Athynia shared.
“We didn’t really have anything.”

When Athynia’s family did eventually find a place to live, having a roof over their head was only the first huge hurdle to overcome. Paying for rent, food, and other essentials left little to no money to put toward making their house a home. There was no television, no internet, no comfortable spot to sit and relax. At night, there were no beds—Athynia and her sister slept on the floor.

Seeing the family’s situation, Athynia’s grandmother connected them with Oyate Tipi, a United Way Winnipeg donor-supported organization that collects ‘deposits’ of donated furniture and household items for people to ‘withdraw’ what they need.

Oyate Tipi helps women and children leaving violent relationships, refugees and newcomers, kids aging out of foster care, and people and families transitioning out of homelessness.

Athynia’s family received three or four beds, a big couch, and a TV from Oyate Tipi. The teenager remembers the thrill and the relief when the pieces were delivered to their house.

“It felt like Christmas, to be honest,” she recalled. “It felt really good not to sleep on the floor anymore. I felt more at home than before, (when) the furniture wasn’t there. It really meant a lot.”

“We try to help people to … build up their self-esteem 
and give them some confidence to rebuild their lives.”

Oyate Tipi Executive Director Greg Georgeson said having a house takes care of a critical basic need for many Winnipeggers—but creating a home in that same space means taking care of a person’s practical and emotional needs as well.

Without the financial resources to furnish a home, it can be extremely difficult for people to truly move forward.

“Could you imagine coming home every day and not having a couch to sit on after a day’s work? Or trying to wake up the next morning refreshed when you’re sleeping on the floor?” Georgeson said. “That affects people in a number of different ways—mentally, self-esteem…

“We try to help people to … build up their self-esteem and give them some confidence to rebuild
their lives.”

In the last year, nearly 550 Winnipeggers received household items from Oyate Tipi—up from just over 500 in 2021-2022. Volunteer Program Coordinator Deb Huff says it changes people’s lives to receive the kind of everyday necessities many of us may take for granted.

“It makes a huge impact to go from having nothing 
to having some very basic items that they need.”

“(People) are overwhelmingly thankful,” she said. “We’ve had people crying with gratitude.
They have couches, they have dishes, they have cribs for their babies, they have beds for their children.

“It makes a huge impact to go from having nothing to having some very basic items that they need.”

Right now, Oyate Tipi makes about four deliveries to people and families every day, and there’s a two- to three-week waiting list for items. Georgeson said demand has increased substantially with our city’s focus on moving people out of homelessness.”

“There’s a really big push to end the homelessness situation,” he said. “Our demand has gone through the roof, and that’s why we so desperately need the support of organizations like United Way Winnipeg.”

Athynia herself began volunteering with Oyate Tipi several months ago as a way to give back to the organization that gave so much to her family. In the last year, she came on board permanently and now works with Georgeson and Huff as an administrative assistant.

Athynia says her past personal experience gives her a unique perspective and compassion for the people she gets to help today.

“When there are customers that come in here … it makes me think of what my situation was when I was them,” she said.  

“It honestly makes my day every time I come here, because it makes me feel like I’m important and I’m doing something for the greater good.”


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