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Family centre given reprieve

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A month ago, the Fort Frances Family Centre only had enough funds to last until the end of December.

Now, thanks to a recent influx of donations, it can remain open until at least June.

“We know now we can make it halfway through the [year],” said Monica Sus of the centre.

“But unless something happens, we're going to have to do some fundraising to get past that point,” she stressed.

The volunteer-run centre, which offers food, clothing, and companionship, has received overwhelming support from individuals, churches, and other groups to help keep it going.

“The support has been really been great.” Sus enthused.

“Every day, people come in to drop off donations," she noted. "And it's not just one kind of thing being donated, it's all kinds of different things.”

For the centre to carry on past June, it would need $15,000 to cover the rent and insurance for its location at 272 Scott St. that is open Tuesday to Friday from noon-4 p.m. and on Thursdays from noon-6 p.m.

While donations and support have increased, Sus also noted a jump in the number of people accessing the family centre.

“We're feeding more and more people each day," she remarked. "Especially as the weather gets colder.”

When the family centre started out, it was a place for lonely people to stop in at and have some fellowship. Over the months, however, it has become more of a place to help those in need.

“We seem to be catering more and more to homeless people," said centre volunteer Mary Martinson. ”They're hungry and they're cold.

“They'll come here during the day because they know we'll give to them," she noted. ”We'll make sure they have something to eat.

“When it was milder out, they'd come in with wet feet, so they need clean socks and things like that,” she added.

From talking to town residents, Martinson is surprised at how few people know about the number of homeless people living here.

“A lot of folks just aren't aware of how desperate the homelessness situation actually is,” she stressed.

“We are encountering homeless people on a daily basis, which is something I never thought was going to happen.”

Sus admitted she, too, never anticipated that the family centre would be serving the homeless when it first opened, but they're now here to address that need.

“You always hear people say, 'Who are these homeless?'" she remarked. "But if you hang out here long enough, you get to know their names, you get to hear some of their stories, and where they hang out.”

Martinson finds great reward in the work the centre does to assist the homeless and has built many connections with those who are struggling.

“You go home some nights and your heart is just bleeding, but you come back and you do it again,” she said.

“You know you're making a difference for that person on that day at that time.”

The Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board, with the help of 40 local service agencies, conducted a homelessness count in April and determined there are 111 homeless people in the district, 82 of which live in Fort.

The numbers suggest 1.05 percent of the town's population is experiencing some degree of homelessness.

Unlike Winnipeg or Toronto, homeless people here aren't walking the streets begging for spare change. They're generally hidden from the public, “couch surfing” and seeking refuge in heated public facilities around town.

To help feed those in need, the family centre has been hosting “Soup and Sandwich Nights” every Thursday from 4-6 p.m. since October, where people can enjoy a free meal and connect with others.

“We have a consistent dozen people come out," Sus noted. "Some nights have been much more.”

The centre plans to host a turkey dinner tomorrow (Dec. 20) from 4-6 p.m. and everyone in the community is invited to come out.

“The other thing is there's a few catering businesses, they'll cater for an event and if there's stuff left over, they bring it here,” added Sus, which she said helps the centre keep a healthy inventory of food on hand.

The centre also runs mini-fundraisers throughout the year, in addition to selling clothing, antiques, giftware, and other items to help cover expenses and pay the rent.

In the New Year, there are plans to hold a fashion show fundraiser to help offset some costs.

The centre currently in need of $10 gift cards from Safeway so people who are hungry can have access to milk and bread.

“We can't keep that here [at the centre] so that's what the gift cards are for,” Sus explained.

The centre's volunteers also include Tracey Lockman, Mersini Bastise, and Melinda Wickstrom of Melinda's Unique Boutique, and they always are looking for more helping hands.

Those interested in volunteering or making a donation can contact Sus at 271-2839.

She encourages anyone in need to stop by the centre, as it has an emergency food/clothes bank and can help people address their basic needs.

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