Sarah hasn’t stopped beaming—not since her hairstylist wrapped a smock around her shoulders over 20 minutes ago.
“Being here today is very exciting,” remarks Sarah over the hum of clippers and the rhythmic snip of scissors.
“I like the kindness of the people here. And it’s nice to get a free haircut, too.”
It may seem like a simple thing. But at this special pop-up studio, a haircut isn’t just a haircut—it’s a message of love.
Sarah is among the 128 women gathering for Women’s Day of Caring. It’s an annual event honouring women, especially those in the Weston neighbourhood, who are currently experiencing poverty.
Hosted by United Way Winnipeg and NorWest Co-op Community Health,* guests are relishing an afternoon of self-care, including a free lunch and the opportunity to stock up on much-needed items for their cupboards and closets.
"I like the kindness of the people here."
Twenty students and teachers from Aveda Institute Winnipeg are generously loaning their time and talent to provide free haircuts, cheerfully chatting with guests as they snip and style.
“I hope the women here feel uplifted and good about themselves,” says Kalina Villamar, Aveda’s Director of Education.
“We want them to know our community is there for them.”
For many guests, this yearly event is their only chance to get a haircut. And with the burden of rising prices, it’s getting harder and harder to afford the basics.
That’s why Sarah is thrilled she can pick out some new clothes for herself and her kids. Half the room is set up as a boutique, where guests can scour racks of gently used shoes, jewellery, household items, and clothing.
“I’m coming out of addiction,” Sarah explains. “I was down to 80 pounds. So, I’m really happy to get some clothes that fit me again.”
"We want them to know our community is there for them."
Volunteers are the engine of this special event. Almost 30 Winnipeggers lent their time, from collecting donations to packing hygiene kits with essentials like soap and menstrual products.
Kristie Pearson, United Way Winnipeg’s 2023 Campaign Co-Chair, neatly folds a stack of blouses as women shop. She’s volunteered at Women’s Day of Caring for ten years.
“It’s working together to support each other,” Kristie says of the grassroots effort. “It’s complete joy.”
She says it’s rewarding to experience the positive impacts of the day for visitors, many of whom face enormous challenges in their day-to-day lives.
“It’s a day to be seen and heard and understood and acknowledged as people, as equals.”
"It's complete joy."
That sense of community and feeling of being valued is exactly what drew Sarah back to Women’s Day of Caring for a second year.
But this time, Sarah brought a special guest: her teenage daughter, Jill, whom she’s only starting to get to know.
“Nearly 20 years ago, I lost all five of my kids when they were put into foster care,” she explains.
It was a trauma that felt all too familiar to Sarah, who was also taken from her family as a child. Sent away to a residential school near Dauphin, Sarah lost her childhood, cultural identity, and community all at once.
Struggling to cope as an adult, she turned to substances to numb her pain. But after a heart attack nearly claimed her life, Sarah knew it was time for a different path. She got sober and sought to regain contact with her kids.
“I’m 55 years old, and I’m getting to know my children again,” she declares with a grin.
Jill, Sarah’s 18-year-old daughter, is also pleased this event offers a welcoming, safe space to reconnect with her mom and repair their relationship.
“We’re not in contact too much,” she says. “But little things like [Women’s Day of Caring] really help.”
Another perk of the day for Jill is the chance to update her wardrobe, replacing clothes she says she’s been wearing for far too long.
“With the cost of groceries now, all our money is going to food instead of clothes. It’s really tough.”
Jill’s high school graduation is on the horizon, so she thoughtfully chose a few pieces of business attire for job interviews. She hopes to become a graphic designer one day—a dream that makes her mom proud.
“I’m overjoyed,” says Sarah. “I hope that she succeeds in everything she does.”
*With the help of United Way Winnipeg donors, NorWest Co-op Community Health is Manitoba’s only healthcare co-operative, helping Winnipeggers improve their physical well-being and mental health at resource centres across the city.