Non-profit offers hand up to families that need it

United Way-funded Oyate Tipi Cumini Yape helps families start over

By Jessica Botelho-Urbanski for the Winnipeg Free Press. 

As one of Millie Anderson’s clients puts it, living in poverty can feel like a constant struggle to climb out of a ditch.

For families that need a hand up, Oyate Tipi Cumini Yape is an invaluable resource with no strings attached, the client said.

Anderson, the executive director of Oyate Tipi, reads the client’s thank-you letter aloud.

“I don’t necessarily mind fighting for the needs of my family,” the woman wrote. “But I was becoming drained, and other than having my children, I can hardly count the amount of times someone had given me something without strings attached.

Millie Anderson, executive director of Oyate Tipi Cumini Yape poses for a photo with a warehouse/driver assistant Cole Scott. BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Millie Anderson, executive director of Oyate Tipi Cumini Yape poses for a photo with a warehouse/driver assistant Cole Scott. BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

“Your organization helped me just because I needed it, and you gave me the best you had. I just wanted you to know it may have been another day at work for all of you, but it was a miracle to me.”

Oyate Tipi is a non-profit depot on Selkirk Avenue that recycles housewares, furniture, children’s toys or any items that could help people start over after leaving a dangerous or unhealthy home.

The non-profit gets referrals from local women’s shelters and transition homes, and also helps families in crisis — people whose homes have burned down or were infested with bedbugs, for example.

Anderson sets up appointment times with clients so they can pick out new pieces for their homes in private.

Since she came to the organization seven years ago, the number of clients per year has doubled to 400, she said.

“The waiting list was two, 2 1/2 months long when I came, and I didn’t think that was fair to the ladies waiting that long. So I did a lot of fast-tracking and cleaning it up,” Anderson said. “Now the wait is maybe two, maybe three weeks at the longest. I try and keep it limited. I don’t want them sleeping on the floors that long.”

Oyate Tipi’s warehouse is packed nearly to the ceiling with mats, mattresses, linens, baby cribs, car seats and other repurposed furniture.

All the items are donated, mostly by people in Winnipeg, Anderson said. Oyate Tipi also receives funding from United Way Winnipeg to pay its staff and provide training and food to volunteers.

The non-profit’s tight-knit team — about 25 volunteers and a handful of staff — picks up donations from around the city and heat-treats them in two trailers parked behind their building.

A three-hour heat treatment clears the items of possible bedbug infestations. The Oyate Tipi crew has also heat-treated entire homes with their generators.

Anderson said the need for their services continues to grow, and Oyate Tipi may be looking for a bigger building in the near future.

“I feel blessed because we’ve got what we need to run the place,” she said. “We’re helping the families, we’re recycling tons and tons of stuff that goes back to the families. That’s what’s important.”

If you have gently-used household items or furniture you would like to donate to Oyate Tipi, call 204-589-2265.

You can also support Oyate Tipi with a donation to United Way at UnitedWayWinnipeg.ca/help or by calling 204-477-UWAY (8929).

REPUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE WINNIPEG FREE PRESS PRINT EDITION OCTOBER 17, 2015.