If you are thinking about donating food or clothing to the Atikokan Crisis Centre for the upcoming Christmas season, staff there won’t refuse it.
But they’ll likely say there’s a better venue for those items.
"Donate to your local food banks and Christmas cheer boards," Charene Gillies, executive director of the crisis centre, suggested Monday.
"You will reach the most women and children that way. I certainly support that," she added.
Gillies said it was hard to predict how busy the crisis centre would be over the holidays, noting the service fluctuates all the time.
But she did say preparations in keeping with the spirit of Christmas were in place just in case women alone, or with children, were sheltered there over the next week or so.
"We have gifts and dinner, and we try to make it a special time," Gillies said. "Christmas can be a stressful time, especially for women at the shelter over the holidays when there is a family focus."
She pointed out it is very important that shelter users don’t feel left out of the seasonal celebrations.
Meanwhile, Gillies said the crisis centre was still feeling the effects of the closure of its outreach office in Fort Frances last year--especially in terms of giving people the impression that the whole crisis support system had shut down.
"I personally know some people in Fort Frances who hadn’t realized we were still operating," she said. "We’re not getting the same number of requests [for help] from Fort Frances."
But Gillies did add a training session here last April was successful, with a number of new Rainy River District volunteers coming on line.
Volunteers are a lifeline to providing transportation to the shelter, as well as for advocacy to women attending social services appointments.
"The main message I want to get across is that we still provide a 24-hour service to women. We are here," she stressed, also noting that if a woman just wanted to talk to a staff member, that was okay, too.
The toll-free crisis line (1-800-465-3348) is open at all times, and calling there doesn’t mean a woman has to come and stay at the shelter.
"We can provide lots of different information, and we are one of the few services where you actually have a personal contact and no voice mail," Gillies noted.
"For that reason, we are a very valuable service."
Gillies said trained staff at the crisis centre also can provide information on how to access legal and social services, as well as educate women on what their rights are.