The Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre has been delivering emergency food and hygiene kits to an "alarming" number of Winnipeg children over the last two weeks.
"Out of the 1,900 kits that we delivered, 870 are children and… 650 of those children are under the age of 10," said Diane Redsky, executive director of the Indigenous-led family resource organization. "We have a lot of families with children who are needing food and basic needs."
Ma Mawi closed all of its public-access sites in mid-March in response to COVID-19. Since then, staff and volunteers have been scrambling to fill the gap for the hundreds of people who accessed the organization’s weekly programs prior to the pandemic.
"Our families live day-by-day and they rely on the services of Ma Mawi and many other community-based organizations to survive," Redsky said. "We couldn’t just shut down without having an emergency response system in place."
The emergency kits include a sandwich, fresh fruit and granola bar; as well as hygiene items and baby products, such as diapers and formula, for families who need them. So far, nine volunteers have signed up to help pack lunches and deliver kits to homes in Winnipeg
Lawrence "Spatch" Mulhall is the executive director of the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre. In addition to running a food drive for his own own organization, Mulhall has been delivering emergency kits for Ma Mawi three hours a day, six days a week.
"The people that we come across are extremely grateful, there’s quite a few elderly people and families," he said. "Seeing their faces light up when you show up with a box of diapers and sandwiches and groceries puts a big smile on my face, as well."
On Monday, Mulhall was delivering packages with his 24-year-old goddaughter, Hera Nalam.
"For a person like me, who has a little bit more security, it feels good to give back to the community that has helped me grow as a person," Nalam said. "I think in a very fast-paced life it’s so easy to spiral down when you have nothing to do, so if you’re just sitting in the comfort of your home not knowing what to do there is this way to volunteer and give back and stay connected."
Ma Mawi is currently able to offer deliveries Monday through Saturday. With more volunteer drivers and additional food and hygiene donations, Redsky says the program could be expanded to seven days a week.
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To maintain physical distancing, volunteer drivers are calling ahead and leaving packages on doorsteps and donations are being collected on a table set up outside of the organization’s King Street centre. Volunteers or donors who are sick are asked to stay home.
Ma Mawi is also working on a contingency plan to address other issues that might arise the longer families are required to live in isolation.
"We expect the needs of people who are very vulnerable to increase the longer this goes on, not only with what they need to survive in terms of food, but also their mental health, their safety in some cases," Redsky said. "We’re concerned about violence increasing in homes and that goes across the board, whether you live in poverty or not."
The organization is exploring phone and virtual support services for families, but those options are dependent on technology and internet access.
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Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Those who are interested in volunteering to deliver emergency kits for Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre can email email@example.com and provide their name, contact information and availability.
Deliveries are made from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturdays.
Donations of food, baby formula, diapers (size five) and hygiene products, including toilet paper, feminine products, shampoo, conditioner and soap, can be dropped off at the Jarvis Avenue entrance of Ma Mawi's centre at 445 King Street.