Manitoba

'Don't forget about us': Christmas done but shelters still urgently need gifts of mitts, gloves

The deep freeze that wrapped itself around Manitoba has also put a squeeze on some supplies at Winnipeg shelters.

Blankets, lip balm, tuques, scarves, long underwear, even cold medicines are all gratefully accepted

The bitter cold in Winnipeg has taken a toll on stocks of some warm clothing supplies at shelters. (Radio-Canada)

The deep freeze that wrapped itself around Manitoba has also put a squeeze on some supplies at Winnipeg shelters.

While tuques, scarves, socks, jackets and blankets are always in demand, the priority at the moment is mittens and gloves.

"Mitts, that's a big one. They're better than gloves because they keep hands warmer," said Cindy Titus, spokeswoman for Main Street Project, which runs a shelter, detox centre and transitional housing.

"That's reflective of us as well," said Luke Thiessen, communications manager at Siloam Mission. "Our most urgent need is men's winter gloves and long johns."

Gloves or mitts, doesn't matter, Thiessen said.

"We'll take it all; the warmer the better."

They won't turn away anything people want to donate, Thiessen said.

"We always need tuques and scarves and even if they're not an urgent need right now, we'll always take them because we sure go through them."

Christine Makara, 35, had recently been released from the Headingley Correctional Centre and didn't have any winter gear to stay warm besides her coat. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Christine Makara, 35, stood outside a shelter on Tuesday shivering in the cold with her hands tucked deep into her pockets. She had just been released from the the Headingley Correctional Centre and, besides her jacket, didn't have any other winter clothing. 

"I've spent many winters on the streets," she said. "If it wasn't for Salvation Army, sometimes I think I probably would have froze to death." 

Makara has struggled with addiction since she was 11 years old. She said she's known a lot of people who actually try to go to jail during the winter because they are afraid of freezing on the streets. Especially for people who are drunk or high, the cold doesn't feel the same, she said.  

"You don't notice anything, your feelings, your whole life. It's all about that next hit. It's a really awful feeling, lonely and sad and dark," she said. 

"I am happy to be free but it sucks to be homeless, you know, nowhere to go besides this place with all the users around. It sucks.

In the lead-up to Christmas, Main Street Project staff undertook a gift drive and collected tuques and scarves, which were put into bags decorated by students at Marion School in Winnipeg.

Mittens and gloves are in desperate need at Winnipeg shelters. (CBC)

On Christmas Eve, the bags were left beside some 200 people staying with Main Street Project, so they had gifts in the morning.

There are still some of those items left, but the mitten pile is extremely low, said Titus, noting very few of those came in during the gift drive.

"That was a little bit of a surprise," she said. "So we're hoping that people don't forget about us now that the holidays are over. The cold is still here and isn't going away."

The agency is also looking for fleece blankets, the type of inexpensive throws that people have on couches and chairs, which can be handed out by staff with the van patrol program.

They drive around and offer whatever assistance they can — coffee, mitts, coats, scarves — to homeless people who turn down offers to sleep at the shelter.

"Those fleece blankets are really helpful," Titus said.

Blankets are gratefully accepted at Siloam as well, said Thiessen, who also emphasized a need for lip balm, such as Chapstick, and cold medicine.

"We have the Saul Sair Health Centre, so we can always use cold medicines, as long as they are unopened and still in a package."

While tuques, scarves, socks, jackets and blankets are always in accepted, there is a scramble right now for more mittens and gloves. 1:35

About the Author

Darren Bernhardt

Reporter/Editor

Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, first at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories and features. Story idea? Email: darren.bernhardt@cbc.ca

With files from Austin Grabish