Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Theft dashes family centre's plan to have reading centre

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Grinches made off with six bags of donated toys and books destined for children at the Indian Family Centre on Friday.

Thieves climbed over a two-metre fence, smashed a window and kicked in a door at the Selkirk Avenue building, Michele Visser, the Indian Family Centre's director, said Tuesday. At least six bags of wooden toys and children's books donated to the centre were stolen before she even had a chance to unpack them.

Police are investigating, but no suspects had been arrested as of Tuesday.

Visser said the theft has dashed plans to set up a reading corner for parents and children at the centre this week.

"So many people who come to our centre live sometimes without support of families or on their own, and so Christmas can just be such a lonely time for some people, a really hard time," said Visser.

"We want our focus at this time of year to be helping families cope with something that can actually be really stressful just because it's supposed to be so great. And that's supposed to be our focus."

About 70 to 100 adults and children come to the Indian Family Centre each day for coffee and to make phone calls, get help with resumés or complete housing applications. The centre attracts people of all ages and runs Christmas activities for those who drop in. On Tuesday, a weathered-looking man wearing a black baseball hat chatted with his buddies while a small boy played on a couch in a back room.

The centre also has a family room and another room especially for babies.

"We are a family centre so we really want to centre our programming around family units, grandparents, parents, children, aunts and uncles, and we try to do a lot of stuff so that the whole family can be involved together," she said.

"The idea of having a little reading corner where parents could specifically be cosy with their kids and read to them... especially in an area where literacy is a concern sometimes, that just really fit with our values."

Visser said she didn't want to publicize a "sob story," but she's distressed because the toys were specially designed to be educational and fixing the centre's property will cost money the centre could put to better use.

"Any non-profit lives pretty close to the bottom line, so it just seems like such a waste of money to me that we have to fix these things instead of using it in the way it would have been intended," she said.

The break-in on Friday night -- and subsequent police investigation that included seizing forensic evidence -- meant activities the centre had planned for Saturday and Monday were cancelled.

Staff said there was spit on the floor after the theft, and police had marked fingerprints left on a back window.

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2011 A7

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Updated on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 6:48 AM CST: adds video, corrects typo

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