WINNIPEG -- A warming centre using empty recreational space to help feed and keep vulnerable Winnipeggers warm this winter is looking for donations of underwear and warm winter clothing.

The organizations worked with the City of Winnipeg to transform the unused gym at the Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre into the warming centre. The services are for anyone, including unsheltered individuals of all genders who experience food insecurity, and a lack of access to other basic needs.

It opened on December 1, and offers clients a warm place to go, a meal, washrooms, winter gear, and hygiene products in a safe way. Staff can also connect people with available supports on housing, gender-based violence, health, mental health, and substance use.

“We saw a lot of need. We know winter was going to come, and we knew people needed a place to be,” said Mareike Brunelli, director of community services, West Central Women’s Resource Centre.

The warming centre is a partnership between the West Central Women’s Resource Centre and the Spence Neighbourhood Association.

“There is a housing crisis in the downtown and West End that was not put on pause when the pandemic hit,” said Lin Howes Barr, executive director of Spence Neighborhood Association, in a statement. “Folks need somewhere safe to go to get out of the cold, have something hot to eat, and access basic needs. Emergency Housing Shelters are largely not open during the day and none are in the West End. This is a real gap that this new Warming Centre fills.”

While some services could be offered at the door, Brunelli said there was a need for some indoor space.

“We wanted to make sure that there was some kind of option for people that need to be indoors for some period of time during the day to come in and serve them,” Brunelli said.

The shelter has a capacity of 200 people and is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Despite currently operating below its 200-person capacity, donations are needed. The centre is looking for all kinds of warm winter wear including jackets, gloves, and toques, as well as underwear and socks. To donate you can arrange a drop-off appointment by contacting the warming centre at 204-333-9681, or by dropping off the items during operating hours.