Growing into giving
Michael and Mary Gnutel feel they are standing on the shoulders of generations that came before them. Both come from a Ukrainian Catholic background and have great grandparents who came to Canada with a goal of settling on the prairies and building a better life for their families. The couple married in 1980 and dreamed early on about starting a family foundation or endowment fund.
With Michael working for Canada Revenue Agency during the day and Mary coaching professional figure skating in the evenings, they worked together to raise three sons, living a comfortable but frugal life. Now, 43 years later, Michael and Mary feel they’re in a more settled stage of their lives, with children who have their own flourishing families. Grateful for all the blessings they have received, the Gnutels want to do something for their community.
Helping others has always been important to the Gnutels. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic Michael volunteered at Agape Table through the Knights of Columbus at their parish. Michael and Mary saw the challenges some people face in our community. A member of Mary’s family has mental health challenges that lead them to access shelters and housing resources.
The Winnipeg Foundation’s 2022 Vital Signs® report, released earlier this year, identified availability and access to safe affordable housing as one of gaps in our community. In Winnipeg, for every 20 low-income renters there are only three housing units available – well below other cities like Regina that have eight units and Calgary that have nine units. Affordable housing is at a crisis point in Winnipeg.
The Gnutels are aware of the growing number of people experiencing homelessness and feel compelled to help. “We need to be a part of that picture in some way,” says Mary. “It’s affecting our family. It’s affecting other families too.”
In 2022, they established the Michael and Mary Gnutel Gratitude Fund, a donor advised fund at The Winnipeg Foundation.
The Gnutels are focused on supporting people experiencing homelessness, especially those unsheltered – living in places like parks, bus shelters, along riverbanks, vacant lots, or encampments. Many unsheltered people are unable or afraid to access services at shelters or government organizations, and Michael and Mary want to make sure they are supported physically, mentally, and spiritually with dignity and respect. “It’s our challenge, our opportunity to be better human beings, to make sure that they feel loved, they feel comforted, they feel that nobody has forgotten about them.” says Michael.
Through their fund Michael and Mary are able to choose the projects they want to support. They are interested in programs – like Main Street Project’s Van Patrol – that reach out and build relationships with people that are unsheltered, providing them with supports and services where they live.
The Gnutels know poverty and homelessness is a complicated issue with no easy solutions. It can be disheartening to put energy and resources into trying to make a difference but not see any progress. For Michael and Mary, it’s about providing comfort and dignity to people so they feel that they matter and belong. For Mary, “Even if it makes a difference to one person for one hour on one day, it’s worth it.”