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Group making a difference in inner city

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For many the holiday season is a time for celebrating, gift giving, tree trimming and indulging in plentiful heaps of turkey, potatoes and cranberries along with, perhaps, one too many egg nogs.

For others it is not. It is a time when their poverty and hunger looms in appalling contrast to the splendour of the festivities that surround them.

Almost 64,000 Manitobans use food banks monthly and almost 50% are children, according to Winnipeg Harvest. One organization, among others, trying to make a difference in Winnipeg’s inner city is The Welcome Home.

Located in an older home on Euclid Avenue in the Point Douglas neighbourhood, it opened in 1993 and will mark its 20th anniversary in July.

The Welcome Home was established by the Redemptorists, a worldwide Catholic congregation of priests and brothers. Founded in 1732 by St. Alphonsus Liguori, their mission is to reach out to the poor and most abandoned and to share the gospel.

Rev. Larry Kondra was the director for 12 years. In 2005, Rev. Michael Smolinski was appointed.

"We are called to live up to our name; our job is to be welcoming, to provide fellowship and support," Smolinski says.

With the aid of another priest, Rev. John Sianchuk, and two young adult volunteers from Ukraine who also reside at the home, people from the surrounding neighbourhoods are welcomed in for celebrations, recreation, fellowship, and prayer. Another young adult volunteer is expected to arrive from England in the new year.

Many other dedicated volunteers, "university students and women," come from all walks of life to help out as well. Those served come from aboriginal, Ukrainian and from many other backgrounds and denominations.

Food hampers are distributed while children’s creativity programs, a day camp and piano lessons are offered. A weekly family night and biweekly Ukrainian Catholic Divine Liturgies are held.

Every year there is a children’s Christmas celebration, a family variety night, year-end barbecue and Thanksgiving, Easter and other gatherings.

"It’s a church, it’s a house, it’s a community centre, all those things and more....," Smolinski says. "It’s a real community of the poor, it’s a community of sharing and maybe more of our parishes should be like that as well, where the poor should feel at home," he adds.

"But that’s the point of The Welcome Home — it’s certainly to provide a place for our neighbours to find community and to experience our Ukrainian Catholic Church."

The home’s 20th anniversary will be held from July 4 to 7 when there will be "a big reunion of former volunteers from across Canada."

How can you help? The Welcome Home is always in need of non-perishable food items and will accept cash donations also. Those donating are asked to call Rev. Michael Smolinski at 204-946-5352. To learn more, check out the organization’s beautiful video, "Quiet Light" at http://yorktonredemptorists.com/the-welcome-home/ .

Cheryl Girard is a community correspondent for Riverbend. You can contact her at girard.cheryl@gmail.com.

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