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“To me, it’s my family.”

May 27, 2024


Community cares for community at the 17th annual Women’s Day of Caring

The aroma of bison chili and freshly baked bannock wafts through the air as neighbours laugh and chit-chat while sifting through neatly folded stacks of clothes.

It’s just a few days after Mother’s Day and more than 125 women and gender-diverse folks are gathering in the Weston neighbourhood for the 17th annual Women’s Day of Caring, hosted by United Way Winnipeg and agency partner NorWest Co-op Community Health.

“It’s a day to celebrate women and to offer support they may not otherwise get,” shares Aimee Pan, a Community Programmer with NorWest, Manitoba’s only health-care co-operative.

“It also gives them something to look forward to amid the struggles they have in their lives.”

Aimee Pan embraces a co-worker, surrounded by a caring team from NorWest.
Aimee Pan (fourth from right) is surrounded by a caring team from NorWest.

Half the room is set up as a boutique, where guests can scour racks of gently used clothing, shoes, jewellery, and household items. Everything was lovingly donated by caring Winnipeggers and through community collection drives held by Danali and Mondetta Clothing.

Guests also relish the chance to get a free haircut offered by cheerful Aveda Institute students and savour a nourishing lunch from Feast Café Bistro, sponsored and served by Birchwood.

“Being here gives me peace,” remarks a 60-year-old woman with long, flowing, silver hair who calls herself Grandma Fanny. She’s among the many attendees connected to Blake Gardens, one of NorWest’s three family resource centres scattered across the city.

“To me, it’s my family,” says Fanny, a regular at Blake Gardens since 1998.

“I love the United Way,” says Grandma Fanny. “I like when they come to this event, because they always bring good clothes.”

“They had to be evacuated immediately.”

When wildfires tore through the north, forcing her family members to flee to Winnipeg for safety only a few days earlier, Grandma Fanny knew exactly where to bring them.

“My niece came in with me to shop for herself today because they only came with the clothes on their back,” shares Fanny. “They had to be evacuated immediately.”

Despite the fear she feels for her family, Fanny is also relieved, knowing new clothes and a hearty, healthy meal are a few things they don’t have to worry about.

Grounded in reverence for all her relations, Fanny also summoned an entourage of friends who are new to the community at Blake Gardens, so they, too, could stock up on much-needed essentials for their cupboards and closets.

“For people on social assistance, it’s hard for us to go shopping and buy clothes with the cost now,” says Fanny. “It’s difficult to get hygiene items, especially feminine hygiene.”

Every guest is taking home a hygiene kit, thoughtfully packed by 10 What’s Next volunteers with handwritten notes and supplies like shampoo, body wash, soap, deodorant, and oral and menstrual hygiene supplies—a huge comfort for Fanny’s family escaping forest fires.

A row of guests relax as their Aveda stylists wash, cut, and style their hair.
“Haircuts, getting their portraits taken, new clothes—these are things that aren’t always accessible to the community,” says Aimee.

"We're all about community."

For many guests, this yearly event is their only chance to get a haircut. With the burden of rising prices and economic uncertainty, it’s getting harder and harder to afford the basics—and Aimee says that takes a tremendous toll on people’s overall health and quality of life.

“Mental health is a big thing in this community right now,” Aimee remarks, “and it often stems from challenges like addiction, homelessness, and poverty.”

That’s why she says today—and every day at NorWest—is all about wrapping love, kindness, and a sense of belonging around each guest.

“We’re all about community,” she explains, “and this whole afternoon is for community.”

Four Mondetta team works stand against a blue wall with colourful painted handprints.
A committed crew from Mondetta shows their love and concern for their community by volunteering at the event and donating mountains of clothing.

Good for people, good for our planet

Volunteers are the engine of United Way Winnipeg, including at this special annual event.

More than 40 Winnipeggers are enthusiastically lending their time—from collecting donations to packing hygiene kits to serving up steaming bowls of chili.

Kristie Pearson, a champion of United Way Winnipeg who served as last year’s Campaign Co-Chair, has volunteered at Women’s Day of Caring for over a decade and is excited to see the event grow.

“We have lots of hard-working volunteers with us today, and I’d say more clothes and corporate donations than we’ve ever had,” she shares. “That’s HUGE—especially in this time of rising costs.”

Kristie Pearson wears a purple sweater, jeans, and a bright smile as she folds a red shirt.
Community champion Kristie Pearson sorts stacks of clothing, as she has for over a decade at Women’s Day of Caring.

Not only is Kristie elated this event meets a real human need during such desperate times, but she’s thrilled knowing it’s a responsible and sustainable choice for our planet, especially in an age of fast fashion.

Every year, Canadians toss about a billion pounds of clothing and items made of fabric into the garbage.

Today, these donated clothes and hygiene items are going to community, not to landfills,” says Kristie.

For Julia Jones, a member of United Way Winnipeg’s volunteer Campaign Cabinet, the day is all about honouring the dignity of each guest and celebrating the power of community.

“It gives people the opportunity to shop and feel good,” she explains. “It’s a chance for people to meet and interact with each other.”

Alongside Kristie and a fleet of other volunteers, Julia is sorting clothing and meeting new friends—including a precious, young girl who wanted her help shopping.

“I think we spent about an hour together trying to find the right purple skirt,” Julia laughs.

A guest wearing a black hat and jean jacket smiles proudly for their portrait after getting their hair styled.

"I keep my head up and stand tall."

As the afternoon wraps up, it’s now Grandma Fanny’s turn to strike a pose and get her portrait taken. She’s excited to show off her new hairstyle, thanks to her friendly Aveda stylist.

The timeliness of the event is impeccable, as she’s attending a powwow in a few days, where she’ll dance and proudly carry the Métis flag.

“My Métis flag is important to me because it represents all my ancestors,” she says. “We are connected as one. We’re all Treaty people.”

A survivor of the residential school system, Grandma Fanny considers it part of her life’s mission to help repair the rift created when land and lives were stolen and culture was lost.

To her, it’s an honour to share traditional knowledge wherever she goes—whether it’s offering the medicine of Indigenous teachings or drumming at the Forks and community events.

“We’re all in a journey to forgive ourselves, love ourselves, help ourselves,” she shares. “All the women here today are strong warrior women. I’m here to bring them knowledge—and I’m loving every minute of it.”

Grandma Fanny laughs at the camera during her portrait session.
"I’m living. I’m surviving. I keep my head up and stand tall."

As someone with a gigantic heart always looking out for the needs of others, Fanny is grateful for the chance to practice self-care and be pampered at Women’s Day of Caring.

Perhaps most of all, she says today is a celebration of her freedom, autonomy, and healing. Decades ago, domestic violence drove Fanny out of her house and into the loving support at Blake Gardens—her home away from home for nearly 30 years.

“I didn’t tell anybody I was being confined. I was too scared,” she says. “By all rights, I should’ve been dead. But I’m here. I’m living. I’m surviving. I keep my head up and stand tall.

“To be part of this makes me happy. It makes me feel safe and comfortable,” she adds.

“I’m proud to be here. And I’m proud of the United Way. They’re really making a difference.”


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