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Privacy the biggest gain at WCS’s new home

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Tuesday at the Memorial Avenue, Elmira site of the new WCS building and future MennoHomes project. From left, Mayor Todd Cowan, Neil Aitchison, WCS executive director Don Harloff, fundraising chair Sandy Shants, MennoHome executive director Dan Driedger, Brian Shantz.

Woolwich Community Services’s brand new home on Memorial Avenue is mammoth compared to its predecessor, but most importantly, it provides privacy for its users.

“We’ve gone from basically 1,000 (square) feet [at the old building on Arthur Street] to this section, which is all of our administration offices,” executive director Don Harloff explained during a tour last week. “This is about 3,500 feet.”

Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris and Ruby Weber presented the $150,000 cheque from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to Don Harloff at Woolwich Community Services’ new location last week.[Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris and Ruby Weber presented the $150,000 cheque from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to Don Harloff at Woolwich Community Services’ new location last week. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
WCS opened at its new location on December 1. The entire building, including the thrift shop, is 7,500 square feet. He expects the thrift shop to be moved into the building in January.

And while bright windows and personal space for staff and volunteers are huge positives, one feature stands out.

“The tremendous boost that we have here is we now have privacy,” Harloff said. “That’s the biggest difference. The most important thing is the privacy.”

All the walls are insulated right through the ceiling and up to the roof to ensure confidentiality to those seeking assistance. There are numerous closed offices and a small library where people can have conversations without the feel of stepping into an office.

On hand November 28 to present a $150,000 cheque from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris noted the differences between the two locations.

“I experienced that when I came to your last one,” Harris said. “Families are already having to struggle enough to walk in and ask for a coat for their kid, let alone go in there and have a bunch of others.”

The agency’s supply of crutches, canes, and wheelchairs used to be confined to a closet in the basement. Now it’s much more accessible on the first floor.

“People really appreciate this,” Harloff said of the service. “Doctors offices are really good about it, they’ll refer people over to us. It’s really well used.”

The Trillium funds helped put the interior of the building together. The community campaign contributed to much of the exterior work, to the tune of $1.25 million.

There are a boardroom and a community meeting room, which comes with a kitchen and can be rented out to groups. The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival committee is already booked in to use the community meeting room. The basement is also being used for sorting and storage and there are computers and a job board set up in the reception area.

The food bank also used to be a closet in their basement. Now they’re able to display the food on shelves.

“What’s different in our food bank from most food banks is people come in and they pick their own,” Harloff said. “We give them a sheet of if you’re a family of four, you’ll get four of this, three of that, two of that, and one of that. They may like Skippy and not Kraft. It means people are getting what they want and what they can use.”

He added the food bank is well stocked right now because of numerous food drives the community has done since Halloween and Thanksgiving. Despite this, there are some items they never have enough of, like shampoo and soap. Different churches assist by asking their members to donate the most needed items on a monthly basis.

Director of community supports Kelly Christie helped sort the donations and said it’s an accurate reflection of how they never get enough of certain things, regardless of the huge influx of food.

“We got four bags of sugar and two jars of jam,” Christie said. “That’s a perfect example of how we never have enough sugar and jam.”

Another important aspect of the food bank is the back door, which people can use to somewhat privately take their food to their car without having to go through the office and have everyone see they just got a food hamper.

The food bank also houses a large closet containing the backpack program and birthday supplies.

“For families with low incomes, sometimes they don’t have enough money to buy their children a present. More so, it’s used when a child gets invited to a party,” Christie said. “And there’s nothing worse than not bringing a present to a party or telling the kids they can’t go.”

She added the lunch crunch program, which provides weekly school lunches to families in need, and the birthday cupboard are unique to their agency.

“They’re very well used and very much appreciated.”

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