Stepping up to the plate

by Heather Emberley and Gracie Sweetstory, May 3, 2017

Canada’s 150th anniversary year is an opportune time for all organizations to review and reminisce about their history.

The Retired Women Teachers Association of Manitoba’s 65th anniversary and the 125th anniversary of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg coincided with the 25th anniversary year of a remarkable achievement by one of Manitoba’s finest teachers and serves to remind us of the people who gave tirelessly to build one great country.

June Gislason

Upon retirement, June Gislason started a Winnipeg Harvest Depot to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Unitarian Church in Winnipeg. From its beginnings on Banning Street, to the weekly Thursday morning food bank at 603 Wellington Crescent, the venture is a tribute to the woman who lived her commitment to social justice.

“It seemed like the right thing to do,” said June (1921-2014) as she reminisced about her involvement with Winnipeg Harvest during a visit I had with her at Misericordia Place.

An educator for 34 years, June was named Teacher of the Year in 1981 by the Canadian College of Teachers. She taught us, “We’re all in this together.”

What a wonderful legacy June Gislason leaves Winnipeg Harvest, her children, 14 grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren.

The idea of a food bank “called to me,” said June and she set to work. A visit to David Northcott at Winnipeg Harvest resulted in an invitation to dinner with his family to discuss the possibility of a food bank with a concept like no other at that time in the city. “And the rest is history,” reflected June.

First Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg

After a quarter century in operation, the UU Food Bank reflects June’s determination that people who come for assistance are to be treated with the utmost respect. June was instrumental in pioneering a service where, “Visitors would be allowed to shop, to make choices, to feel like they can decide which items they need.”

harvestlogo 800x503June also initiated an annual Orange Appeal held each December whereby Harvest families receive a box of mandarin oranges.

June reiterated many times that, “A food bank can happen to anyone with two missed paycheques.” Her motto of “Whatever needs to be done” was what she was prepared to do to make food available for those in need. For her efforts she received the Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Award.

June Gislason knew hungry kids can’t learn. Her legacy of compassion lives on thanks in part to retired women teachers who taught many a hungry child in their careers.

Donations of non-perishable food items and cloth bags are donated at each of the RWTA’s quarterly luncheons. Retired women teachers who would like to partake in the history, fun and camaraderie can contact RWTA President, Cecile Alaire-Skene at 204-256-6176.