‘The world needs more people like her’ Retired Winnipegger opens home, donates necessities to newcomers, homeless — no questions asked
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When someone is in need, Elsie Edwards never asks questions; instead, she jumps into action.
And her Windsor Park home plays a key role in that.
At first glance, the retired Winnipegger’s place looks like any other bungalow, but it’s often bustling with activity, as countless items are dropped off and picked up.
White garbage bags full of necessities stuff the corners of Edwards’ living room, while her double garage is packed with bedroom furniture, tricycles, toys and practically everything a person could need to furnish a house.
“I’m just doing this as an individual. There’s no sponsorship by anybody, just what I do out of my pocket,” said the former employee of Employment and Income Assistance.
On Monday afternoon, a Peruvian family, whom she helped settle into Winnipeg earlier this year, came for a visit. Recently donated camera gear takes up the entire coffee table in her living room. She doesn’t know who dropped it off but knows it’ll end up in good hands.
In addition to operating an informal donation space, Edwards has lent out her spare bedroom in her basement to immigrants, refugees and unhoused individuals. Many of her days are spent dropping off groceries and checking in on those she’s helped.
“I’m kind of their Canadian grandma,” the 71-year-old jokes.
People who drop by Edwards’ home are often reluctant to ask for help. Edwards never means-tests; she simply opens her garage door.
“There are wonderful organizations that also give things away, but they require people to give their financial statements,” Edwards said. “I don’t ask questions. If somebody tells me they need it, then they need it. If they’re not being truthful, that’s on their conscience, certainly not mine.”
“I don’t ask questions. If somebody tells me they need it, then they need it. If they’re not being truthful, that’s on their conscience, certainly not mine.” – Elsie Edwards
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Edwards’ selflessness has changed lives.
In February, Edwards received a call from a social worker about an unhoused man, Gary, who was at risk of losing his foot.
“I was burned out of luck in life, money and everything,” Gary told the Free Press. “I spent one night at Siloam Mission (shelter) in mid-February, and one of the people from the church helped me out and introduced me to Elsie via a family member.”
After meeting for 10 minutes, Gary was given a temporary home in Edwards’ spare room.
“She took me under her wing, gave me the key to her home, opened the door and gave me a place to stay that was warm,” Gary said. “If it wasn’t for her… I probably wouldn’t be here today.”
Gary stayed with Edwards for six weeks. During that time, Edwards took him to doctor’s appointments, purchased clothes and found him an apartment of his own. With Edwards’ help, he received medical care that prevented his foot from being amputated.
“What I find truly amazing is that she does this without any expectation of compensation,” Gary said. “The world needs more people like her. I can never begin to thank her for what she’s done for me.”
“The world needs more people like her. I can never begin to thank her for what she’s done for me.” – Gary
Edwards spends much of her spare time working with local charities.
Peter McMullen, the director of Lighthouse Mission, said the organization wouldn’t be the same without her generosity.
“Whenever we need a specific item, she comes in and she asks, ‘What do you need?’ and she’ll immediately go and get it,” McMullen told the Free Press.
After doing this work for years, Edwards needs more space. She currently rents a trailer that costs her upwards of $300 a month to keep up with donations. She’s even considered going back to work so she can afford to help more people.
“I need some kind of space where I can put things so that people can come and better see what there is to be had,” Edwards said.
When people ask how they can thank Edwards for her help, her answer is simple: pay it forward.
“When someone else needs something, and you’re able to give them a smile, a hug or something, pay it forward because that’s what I’m doing,” she said.
“I live what I believe. I show people that I care by showing them.”