Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City touched by these angels

Suffering frozen feet again to benefit centre

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It isn't easy being an angel.

There's a lot more to it than just lying around on clouds, strumming harps and arranging the odd miracle or two.

You also have to roll out of bed really early, squeeze into a snug angel gown, strap on a sparkling silver halo and fuzzy little wings, then jump up and down and wave at passing cars while trying to avoid frostbite.

I was reminded of this Tuesday morning when, for the fourth year, I was invited to descend on the Maryland Bridge to collect donations from rush-hour commuters as part of Misericordia Health Centre's famed Angel Squad.

Every December for the last 18 years, volunteer angels -- including centre employees, local politicians and hordes of schoolchildren -- have been on a heavenly mission to raise funds for the urgent care centre.

Joining the Angel Squad is a lot like being dragooned into a kindergarten Christmas pageant. Before having a cup of coffee to activate your brain cells, there you are, in a crowded hallway exchanging important angel-related remarks such as: "Would you mind straightening my halo?" Or: "Does this gown make my butt look big?"

It's difficult, using mere words, to describe how cold it is standing on an icy bridge, gown billowing between your legs, halo wobbling on your head, waving one hand and holding a sign in the other in a bid to entice motorists to pull over and open their wallets for a great cause, but I will try: It is really, really cold!

Even though you can no longer feel your extremities after waggling your wings for an hour in the bitter cold, your heart is quickly enveloped in a warm and fuzzy feeling. That's how I felt chatting with Terry Rolland, a social worker for the centre's 145-bed interim-care unit who was emitting visible rays of holiday joy while clutching a sign urging motorists to "turn left" and donate.

"I used to work at a personal care home," the third-year angel told me, teeth chattering. "I remember driving over the bridge and seeing the angels for the first time. I thought, 'Wow! That's a place I'd like to work, a place that can generate that kind of spirit.' I wanted to be an angel. It was on my bucket list."

Now, on a wall in her office, Terry has hung a photo of the first time she donned the Angel Squad's trademark garb. "Any time I'm having a bad day, I look at that picture and I remember what it's all about," she beamed.

While sneaking a coffee at the front door, I bumped into Brenda Weiss, who was doing her first stint as an angel accompanied by her 17-year-old daughter Hailey, a Grade 12 student at nearby St. Mary's Academy.

"We came in for halo repairs," Brenda said, pointing at her daughter's mangled angelic headgear.

"The wind killed it," Hailey chirped, before revealing her feelings about being a rookie angel. "I think it's awesome helping a cause and dressing up and doing it with my mom, too," she said.

Even seasoned angels like me became misty-eyed when a choir of St. Mary's angels, hopping from foot to foot, serenaded passing motorists with a few bars of the Christmas classic Baby, It's Cold Outside.

The Angel Squad is hoping to raise $60,000 this season to buy new bedside tables and chairs for the interim-care unit. "These are for people who can no longer live on their own and are waiting for placement in personal care homes," Glynis Corkal, Misericordia's communications and fund development officer, said.

What do these frozen angels mean to Winnipeg? Rosie Jacuzzi, the centre's president and CEO, put it best when she told me: "It's one of our biggest fundraisers and it's the start to everybody's Christmas. It's an icon of Christmas for Winnipeg. You have the Santa Claus Parade and the Angel Squad."

The angels will be flying again today and Thursday, so drop in and donate. If you have time, pour your free coffee on my toes, because they're getting pretty numb.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 4, 2013 A2

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