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RRC pitches in to help Winnipeg’s homeless during COVID-19

April 28, 2020

Red River College is sharing food, equipment, and expertise with Main Street Project (MSP), an organization that provides shelter and support to people experiencing homelessness and addiction.

MSP, which offers a safe, judgement-free place to those it serves, has been expanding efforts to meet the needs of Winnipeg’s homeless during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“RRC has a longstanding partnership with Main Street Project, and we’ve seen first-hand how the work they do changes lives for those who are often overlooked,” says Dr. Christine Watson, Interim President & CEO, Red River College. “As educators, our mission is to support people to realize their potential, which aligns us with MSP’s goals at a fundamental level. Even though our campuses are closed, we have equipment, partners, and expertise that can help them continue to do that – especially now, when the needs of our community’s most vulnerable are greater than ever.”

“Main Street Project has significantly expanded our current services and taken on a lot of new initiatives in response to COVID-19,” said Rick Lees, Executive Director of Main Street Project. “It’s been an all hands on deck approach and we couldn’t have done a lot of this without our great partners at Red River College. We are immensely grateful to the team at RRC who’ve provided so much assistance to Main Street Project during this challenging time.”

Armed with provincial funding, MSP teamed up with Siloam Mission and the Salvation Army to set up additional facilities for people experiencing homelessness who have COVID-19 or show symptoms, including locations on Main Street, Martha Street, Disraeli Street, and Sargent Avenue.

Red River College stepped up by donating much-needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for MSP staff working on the front lines, including gloves, surgical masks, wipes and gowns. Additionally, the College donated five laptops to support MSP’s expanding operations, and delivered furniture to MSP facilities that are now faced with the challenge of serving those in need while adhering to stringent social distance guidelines. Some of the furniture loaned to MSP include large dining tables and easy-to-clean chairs, food warmers, coffee and catering equipment.

Jeff Gill, RRC’s Director of Food Services, and Mike Blahuta, Manager of Food Services, have been working with Main Street Project leadership and staff for the past two weeks to help feed a rapidly growing number of people. The College has donated bulk foods from inventories that would have gone unused otherwise, since RRC campus food outlets closed in March. These foods are now being portioned out for MSP’s food bank, or served to those living in MSP shelters.

“On Monday I was joined by Jon Royal, our Food Service Chef Manager, who helped cook up 800 portions of soup in less than a day for those who depend on Main Street Project,” says Gill. “To all the young cooks out there, this is now the standard we have set!”

Gill also set up hot beverage programs at MSP’s Disraeli and Sargent locations, and is helping assemble a food station that will serve three meals a day to more than 200 residents who are expected to fill another shelter that will open soon downtown.

Space and supplies normally used in partnership with RRC to deliver the Rising Hope Baking Program are also now being used to prepare and package meals. Program Manager Angela Chotka says that the education in community program has helped the College develop a strong working relationship with Main Street Project. The space that was used for the program also accommodates refrigerators, freezers and kitchen equipment too large for MSP’s own facilities.

Earlier this month, Main Street Project acquired a vacant, six-storey Manitoba Housing apartment on Sargent Avenue to house people experiencing homelessness who are self-isolating while they await their COVID-19 test results. The facility will hold more than three dozen beds when it reaches capacity. After hearing MSP needed some help setting up the facility, Dave Wozny, the College’s Acting Director of Facility Management, reached out to RRC’s network of trusted industry partners and connected MSP staff with mechanical experts and building maintenance contractors, who can help assess and operate the building, including its HVAC systems.

“We were glad to help,” says Wozny, “and look forward to contributing to Main Street Project’s however we can.”