Neepawa resident Liesel Milligan, pictured here with her four children, is on a mission to make sure all newcomers to the community feel welcome and stay warm with good quality winter coats. (Submitted)

A Neepawa resident is helping newcomers to the growing community adapt to the frigid chill of Manitoba winters by collecting winter coats this month.

Leisel Milligan said the idea of helping new Canadians face their first few winters with greater ease came to her when she saw just how quickly her town was growing, and how many people from warmer climates made up the community’s burgeoning population.

“We have this huge Filipino presence in our community. They’re coming from the other side of the world, and there’s this huge culture shock, and there’s physical shock. There’s climate shock, basically,” Milligan said.

Neepawa, located 74 kilometres northeast of Brandon, has a population of 5,685 — 23 per cent higher than its 2016 population of 4,609, Statistics Canada’s 2 021 census data says. A 2016 census showed that Filipinos amounted to 93 per cent of the community’s visible minority population.

With average year-round temperatures of 27 C, the Philippines has a humid equatorial climate made up of high temperatures and heavy rainfall. January — the coldest month the Philippines endures — has an average temperature of 25 C.

By contrast, Neepawa’s average July temperature is also 25 C, with an average January temperature of -22 C, which does not factor in wind chill.

Offering warm winter coats and snowpants is one way Milligan and other members of the community can provide a truly warm welcome to Neepawa, she said.

“We can imagine what a massive challenge winter is for newcomers, and we want to help in whatever way we can.”

Neepawa is also a place that embraces and celebrates its newcomers, Milligan said, and helping them prepare for winter is a practical way to show that the community truly welcomes people with open arms.

“We value our newcomers so much,” she said. “We are so thankful for what they contribute to our community, and this is just one small way to say welcome, and we want to cheer you on as you go through all these changes.”

When Milligan first had the idea to start what is now known as the Neepawa Newcomers Coatroom, she approached several local organizations to figure out how to bring her dream to fruition.

“I have so much community support,” she said. “The Salvation Army has been very encouraging, as has ArtsForward and the immigration settlement office.”

All the groups Milligan approached agreed there was a big need in preparing newcomers for long, cold Manitoba winters by educating them about what to expect and by offering them free winter coats and snowpants. Through their encouragement, the Neepawa Newcomers Coatroom was born.

Many people who haven’t lived in a cold climate can find the task of picking out a winter coat daunting, Milligan said — especially parents who want to make sure their children stay warm and cosy during recess and outdoor playtime at school.

“If you Google winter coat, you can’t tell, based on an image, what a good winter coat is,” she said.

At the Neepawa Newcomers Coatroom, which is made up of donated and purchased items, only good-quality winter coats that will truly hold up to Manitoba’s bitter cold are given out. Any donations of snow boots, hats, mittens, scarves and other winter gear will be passed along to the local Salvation Army thrift store.

The coatroom will have coats and jackets in a variety of sizes, to make sure no one is left in the cold, Milligan said.

“The coatroom will be for all genders, and all sizes, because often people bring over their families, and it’ll be their first winter, too.”

Milligan will also be informing new Neepawa residents what to expect from winter and how to find enjoyment in what can often be a long, lonely time for people who are unused to — or intimidated by — the cold.

“You don’t have to just survive winter. You can enjoy winter,” she said. “We can welcome people with coats and a little bit of information. If you dress warm, winter can be very enjoyable.”

Milligan will also share with people who make use of the coatroom the different kinds of winter activities that are available and accessible in the area, from the ski hill at Minnedosa to the winter hiking trails at Squirrel Hills Trail Park.

Even newcomers from climates more similar to Manitoba — such as Ukraine — are welcome to make use of the service. As long as someone is new to the community, they can come to the coatroom to find a jacket that will keep them warm all winter long, Milligan said.

While the coatroom is still in its first year, Milligan hopes it will contribute to giving newcomers to Neepawa a warm welcome and help to make the transition to their new home that much easier.

“Whether or not this continues on for years and years — which is my hope — every coat that is donated will be given to a newcomer experiencing their first winter in Canada.”

The Neepawa Newcomers Coatroom drive is happening all month long. New or used winter coats can be dropped off at ArtsForward, located at 293 Mountain Ave. in Neepawa. The coatroom will be located at Prairie Alliance Church (155 Main St. West) and will be open in late October or early November for a series of weekends. After that, coats can be picked up by appointment as newcomers arrive throughout the winter months.

Representatives from the Salvation Army and ArtsForward both said their respective organizations support Milligan’s initiative and hope it will be a success.

The Sun was unable to contact the Prairie Alliance Church for comment.

By Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 12, 2023 at 08:28

This item reprinted with permission from   Brandon Sun   Brandon, Manitoba

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