Benedicte LeMaître and Fr. Geoffrey Angeles sort through new clothes donated to St. Elizabeth’s Closet at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Photo by Janelle Lafantaisie

Youth open closet doors to Winnipeg’s new migrants and refugees

By  Janelle Lafantaisie, Youth Speak News
  • February 16, 2018
For many Canadians, hand-me-down clothes from siblings or cousins were a natural part of growing up. However, not everyone is fortunate enough to have relatives to lean on.

Enter St. Elizabeth’s Closet.

Benedicte LeMaître, 23, came up with the idea a few years ago while studying for her religion degree at the University of Manitoba. Winnipeg is home to a large immigration and refugee population, many of whom have found a home parish at St. Mary’s Cathedral in the heart of the Archdiocese of Winnipeg. LeMaître soon came to realize that a lot of these newcomers didn’t have cousins or older relatives who they could go to for hand-me-downs.

“We are St. Mary’s Cathedral, and St. Elizabeth was St. Mary’s big cousin (so) the idea came to me to name the closet, St. Elizabeth’s Closet. Our parishioners can go to the big cousin’s closet whenever they need,” said LeMaître. “Another inspiration for the name comes from St. Elizabeth of Hungary who from the folds of her cloak was able to give to others.”

St. Elizabeth’s Closet made its debut on Thanksgiving weekend of 2017, a few months after LeMaître completed her degree and was finally able to get to work on the project.

Within the first weekend of donations, about 100 bags of clothing from various donors were collected.

“The response to the closet was one of overwhelming generosity and we immediately received almost more donations than we could handle,” said LeMaître. “Entire catechism rooms filled with bags and bags of donations.”

The Closet is set up in the parish hall at St. Mary’s Cathedral. The Closet has been open during church office hours and visitors are welcome to take whatever they need at absolutely no cost.

Office staff are there accept donations.

“Sometimes when you’re in need, you’re not always proud of being in need,” said Fr. Geoffrey Angeles.

“To have it so accessible on the weekends and weekdays really gave people the opportunity to peruse at their leisure and gave them the freedom to take whatever they needed.”

In the past five months, Angeles said he has seen all kinds of people benefit from St. Elizabeth’s Closet. He recently met “a gentleman who had some physical disabilities” who came into the parish hall to browse through the piles of clothing. 

“He was able to come and take some clothing, but it also provided us with the opportunity to have a conversation about where he is in his faith,” said Angeles.
He also met two young newcomers that came by the cathedral in need of winter gear.

“There were brand new students who had come and told their friends about the closet and basically went shopping,” said Angeles. “Where they’re from, it’s a very hot climate. They don’t own sweaters or mitts. That’s a lot to invest in all at once.”

Angeles said the next steps for the Closet will take it beyond the walls of St. Mary’s Cathedral. Angeles and LeMaître have contacted local outreach programs, such as the Bear Clan Patrol and the Winnipeg police department, to direct those in need to the cathedral. They are also hoping to send some items to those in need in the Philippines.

“This is going beyond the confines of our Church community so it can really reach out as far as it can,” said Angeles.

(Lafantaisie, 23, is a freelance photographer in Winnipeg, Man.)

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