CWL members turn up regularly to help make sandwiches for the city's hungry.

August 20, 2012

The Catholic Women's League of Edmonton has been assisting the staff of the Marian Centre in serving meals to the poor since the centre opened in 1955.

When a new Marian Centre building was built the following year, the CWL hosted a tea for those who had donated money, time, talent or material for the construction. This was the start of an annual tea put on by the CWL each year until 1972.

"CWL volunteers have been a vital part of our life," Marian Centre staffers Jude and Sushi said in a recent statement. "They were the first group to help.

"Over the years the CWL provided countless volunteers who helped prepare and serve food for the poor of Edmonton's inner city, sort donations, work in the clothing room and whatever was needed. They also provided financial assistance."

Most of the 30 parishes in Edmonton in the late 1960s took up the challenge of sending volunteers to the Marian Centre one day a month. Later the Anglican Women's group started to volunteer and then the United Church Women as a kind of grassroots ecumenical project.

Rose-Marie McCarthy was a member of St. Edmund's CWL Council in the 1960's and 1970's and volunteered at the Marian Centre for many years until she moved out of Edmonton in 1978.


She used to help with the laundry, washing and ironing the used clothes and bedding donated to the Marian Centre. "I did the ironing; that was my torment," she laughed. "In those days we ironed things, you know."

Jeanette Helmig

Jeanette Helmig

The rest of her crew would help prepare the soup. "They made a soup of whatever food that was there."

McCarthy, now a member of St. Thomas More Council, said in those years CWL members volunteered at the Marian Centre because it was expected of them. "It was one of the CWL projects, so we took our turn."

CWL councils from many parishes continue to send volunteers and financial help to the Marian Centre. One such council is St. Edmund's, which has a core group of about six ladies who go there the second Tuesday of each month.

At the helm of the group is Jeanette Helmig, who has been helping for 45 years. In the beginning she used to take her son Raymond to the centre before he started school.

Helmig would catch a ride with Louise Bouldreault, who would drive six ladies to the Marian Centre.

"Louise drove for us for three years, then Jessie Wagner drove us for years," Helmig recalled. "When Jessie stopped driving I then drove our volunteers."


Over the years the group has done everything from cutting vegetables and slicing meat to making sandwiches.

"I enjoy doing this; I feel good that I am in a position that I can help," Helmig said. "It gives me a lot of satisfaction. It makes me feel lucky to have what I have when I see the people that come in begging for the essentials of life."

Helming also enjoys the fellowship and camaraderie that comes with volunteering at the Marian Centre.

During the morning break, volunteers and staffers gather together in the meeting area to mingle and chat around a cup of tea or coffee. Then a staff member reads a Scripture passage and leads the volunteers in discussion and prayer.