"Often, women feel they can't progress and make a better life for themselves when they're worried about where their children are going to sleep," explains Annetta Armstrong, the coordinator of Oyate Tipi Cumini, a new North End-based organization whose primary purpose is to provide household goods to women who are starting anew.
Armstrong explains that even when a woman is fortunate enough to find housing, thanks to the hard work of one or more of the city's agencies that support women and children who are victims of family violence, that housing may feel very empty when there is little or no furniture and other household items that most people take for granted.
That's where Oyate Tipi Cumini comes in, helping to establish families in new homes by providing items such as beds, tables and chairs, dishes, and cribs, so that families can feel a degree of comfort and normalcy while they try to rebuild.
Essentially, Oyate Tipi Cumini helps make housing a home.
"A lot of women feel they can't parent if they can't provide," says Armstrong, explaining the empowering effect of women and children receiving no-cost furniture and household goods.
"When a woman knows that her kids aren't sleeping on the floor, she is more able to focus on making things better for herself and for her kids."
Oyate Tipi Cumini, which operates out of a warehouse on Selkirk Avenue, is really the brainchild of 10 local service agencies, all of whose goal is to support women and children victimized by family violence. Those agencies are: Alpha House, Ikwe-Widdjiitiwin, L'Entre-temps des Franco-Manitobaines, Osborne House, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, WISH, Native Women's Transition Centre, Elizabeth Fry Society, North End Women's Centre, and Wahbung Abinoonjiiag.
The services of Oyate Tipi Cumini are only available to women who are referred to the furniture warehouse through one of the partner agencies.
Armstrong is given a list of what the women need, and does her best to provide the items requested. The goods are even delivered directly to the recipient family's new home.
Occasionally, women will drop by the Selkirk warehouse to pick and choose what they want.
"I just tell them to have fun," laughs Armstrong. "It's not very often you get to walk around saying, 'I want that, and that' without having to pay for it."
In fact, the only 'cost' of the service is a little bit of good karma. Armstrong says she recommends that the women take what they need, but not more, and that they come back and volunteer when they can.
As well, the coordinator says she asks the women return the donated furniture and household items if there is no longer a need for it.
The furniture warehouse has serviced 60 families since starting up in October. Armstrong calls it an absolute success, adding that she is a little surprised at how well the service functions.
"We're like a well-oiled machine," she laughs.
Currently, Oyate Tipi Cumini is looking for donations and volunteers to help pick up and deliver the furniture and goods.
If you would like to volunteer, call 589-2218 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to donate some new or gently used furniture or household items, call the donation line at 589-2265.
PHOTO MIKE APORIUS/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS