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Elsa’s story – A powerful example of how change comes through a helping hand

A few days ago, this story about Elsa was posted on the United Way facebook page. It was a brief story, but as you can see in the comments, it sparked many comments… which included some valid questions and concerns. I am a firm believer in that lasting change, whether collectively or individually, comes from a hand up, not a hand out, so I asked for more insight into the story.

Graciously, Elsa shared her story in a lot more detail, and I’ve been given permission to share it here.  (Thank you so much, Elsa. I am grateful for your courage & example.)

December 2012

If I eat the sandwich, my kids go to school without lunch. If I give it to them, I won’t eat at all today. It’s okay if I don’t eat enough. My kids are first.

Elsa, Olivia & Diego

Elsa, Olivia & Diego

Hello. My name is Elsa Garcia. I am 27 years old and I live in the Brooklands community with my partner and our two children Olivia, 7 and Diego, 5. I was 20 and living at home when I found out I was pregnant. My partner and I decided to move in together. First we lived downtown, then on Machray, then we found this place.

My partner works, but he also pays child support because he has kids from a previous relationship. Raising a family on our limited budget is very hard. Especially when his payments are due. There are times when I can’t even buy a jug of milk.

When it’s something your family needs, when you don’t have it, and you have to tell your kids you can’t buy it for them, it’s hard. My oldest, Olivia, sees things her friends have at school, like juice boxes and she wants them too. But those things are expensive. I have to buy whatever’s on sale. Or bulk, and put it in another container. Water it down.

Just the other day, one of Olivia’s friends asked her why her mom doesn’t just buy her those things. So she came home asking me why, mommy. I have to tell her we can’t afford it right now. That I’ll try my best for next time. It just breaks my heart, but I think she understands.

As parents, it’s easy to get upset and stressed. We argue. I know it’s not good for me to be angry at my partner. I know he’s stressed too.  I wish I could help our family, at least with getting some of the basics. I want him to know it’s not all on his shoulders all the time. But you justget so frustrated when you can’t provide for your own children.

I’ve got my diploma to be a medical office assistant, but when Olivia came, and then Diego, I had to stay home. We looked at daycares, but it’s too expensive. All my paycheque would just be going to keep them in care.

When I was living at home I never thought I would ever need help, especially with food. You never think you will go through that. When I found myself in that situation, I was embarrassed and ashamed.

Thankfully there’s a place in our neighbourhood that tells me it’s okay. It’s…

…a United Way agency. They tell me that everyone goes through it sometimes and that if we can, if we’re able to help you, we will. And they do.

The first time I went there, it was for a Christmas party they were hosting for the neighbourhood. They didn’t even know me and they just invited me. I’ve never been the kind of person to ask for help, but I was so glad I went. There were toys for the kids, we had a nice dinner, and Olivia and Diego were just so happy. It was a great day!

Since then I’ve joined a health group. We meet every two weeks. They brought in a dietician who gave us tips on shopping for healthy food on a tight budget. But it’s also just nice to meet new people from the community. I remember when I used to live at my parents’ house, nobody around there ever talked to each other. There was no community. But now I know the people around me and if I have a problem I can go and ask them for help. To me it’s like having another family. 

There’s also an afterschool program. My kids love it there because they get to draw and paint and do crafts. They get a healthy snack with the other children and ride bikes that were donated. It makes me feel good that they have those things there because we can’t afford to provide them.

We don’t have a computer at home either so the kids can go and play games, and I’ve been getting help with updating my resume and job hunting on the internet. They’ve shown me some of the boards where there are postings and they’re trying to find me somewhere I can volunteer so I can get some experience.

My dream is to just be able to give my kids and my family the basics. When I no longer have to worry so much all the time if we will have enough food…and we can be more happy and not stressed all the time about financial problems, that’s my dream.

So please, whatever you can give, please help.


Elsa Garcia

Brooklands, Winnipeg

PS. I know that when I can, I’m going to be donating to organizations like United Way.  Because I know how hard it is and I know there’s a lot of people going through what I’m going through.

What I love is that this story shows the power of transition. Hard times happen to people, and sadly it isn’t temporary for many of them, it’s a way of life. What helps people transcend above those hard times, in my opinion (and I could very well be wrong), are 3 main things:

  1. The will to do it
  2. The knowledge & education to make it possible
  3. The support to keep you going when it gets hard

Elsa’s story shows all 3. What has helped Elsa, as she mentions in her story, is the power of community. That is exactly what we need to help make this impossible goal possible. Will you join the movement?

  • Donate here:
  • Share with your community by leaving a comment below or posting the link to Facebook or Twitter.

3 good reasons why the United Way deserves our help

First off, all I have to say is AWESOME. It’s been so exciting to see how much support has come through to help make this miracle possible. I think we can do it…

But first, a little background about why I think the United Way even deserves our help… because at first, I was skeptical.

When I first moved back to Winnipeg (earlier this year, from Phoenix) I drove by the shiny new United Way building on Main street and said to myself, “THAT’S why I don’t donate to the United Way.” Being a self-proclaimed “savvy donator” I knew that my money was best invested going towards organizations that used all of their funds to do actual work in people’s lives, and not to pay for fancy buildings, big salaries, etc. As a kid, I had seen the United Way commercials on TV, but didn’t ever have the foggiest idea what they did. I figured they just used everyone’s money to build a nice building.

Until one day (after asking for some tips on a good place to volunteer) I spoke with someone who worked at the United Way. She broke it down for me in 3 simple points (also each a good reason to give):

  1. None of your money donated to the United Way goes towards administration. In fact, the provincial government believes so strongly in the work that United Way does that a government grant covers all the administration: building costs, employees, etc.
  2. The United Way supports “partner agencies”. And by support, they mean cover their costs to keep their doors open so their employees and volunteers can do the important work they do without worrying about whether the lights will be turned off or not.
  3. You are investing in a vision of Winnipeg. A volunteer board determines where the money raised by the United Way is invested, and the criteria is that those agencies are making Winnipeg a better place in one of 3 areas:
    1. Helping Kids be all they can be.
    2. Moving people from poverty to possibility.
    3. Supporting healthy people & strong communities.

So, there you have it. For more information, check out the official United Way story. Or, here’s a picture I drew all by myself:

How the United Way of Winnipeg works

How the United Way of Winnipeg works – original artwork by @JosephRanseth

Now, I am a donor to the United Way of Winnipeg. I also volunteered to help market Praehistoria, their big annual party for the young crowd (apparently I’m still young enough to qualify).

I also volunteer at one of their partner agencies, Big Brothers Big Sisters, so I know how important the money raised really is. Without the United Way funding, Big Brothers wouldn’t have the money to cover their administration costs to help the hundreds of kids in our community that they do. (More on that later.)

Before the world ends…

So, over the next 2 weeks or so while there is still some 2012 left, I’m going to be visiting some of those agencies and sharing more about the good work that they are doing. If you know of one (or work or volunteer at one) give me a shout and I’ll come down and check it out.

It’s my hope that if we can share enough of how the United Way is impacting our community, people will be more inclined to help out.

Oh, and if you haven’t donated yet, maybe now’s a good time? (If you already have, or are broke, tell your parents to do the same, they probably have more money than you.)

The United Way positively impacts 1 in 3 Winnipeggers… Do you know who they are?

Did you know that 1 in 3 people living in Winnipeg have been positively impacted by the United Way?

To me, that means 2 things:

  1. The United Way is a pretty big deal. It has a massive impact on a lot of people.
  2. If the other 2 in 3 were to just give $1, this whole problem would be solved real quick.

So, to help those other 2 in 3 realize how much impact the United Way is truly having, I want to share some stories of those people who have been helped by the United Way partner agencies in our community.

Are you, or do you know someone, who has been impacted by the United Way and it’s partners? If you are, I’d love for you to let me know by any one of the following:

  • Publish your story on this blog. (You can email me
  • Let me come down and interview you. :)
  • Leave your story in the comments below!

Come on Winnipeg, we got this. (IF you haven’t already, donate here: