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Weekend Winter Wander-land event to benefit downtown Stratford businesses and new homelessness hub

This weekend's Winter Wander-land holiday shopping event in Market Square will help support downtown businesses as well as a new homelessness-resource centre, The Connection Centre, set to open next month.

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A holiday shopping event in downtown Stratford this weekend will benefit downtown businesses, as well as a new homelessness resource centre set to open in the city next month.

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Running from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Market Square Saturday and Sunday, Winter Wander-land will feature a holiday carousel, blacksmithing demonstrations, marshmallow roasting, a Spot Santa scavenger hunt, live music, stilt walkers and the opportunity to donate to The Connection Centre, a Stratford-based homelessness resource centre. Funded and operated by the City of Stratford, the United Way Perth Huron and Choices for Change, the new centre will provide access to local resources for those experiencing homelessness, poverty and mental-health issues.

“We want the emphasis to be on the ‘Wander’ because the point of this event is to push people out to our businesses because they’ve been hurting over the last couple of years,” said Kim Griffiths, membership and animation lead at the Stratford City Centre BIA.

In previous years, Griffiths and BIA staff and volunteers have organized the Stratford Victorian Christmas Market, which included vendors, along with many of the attractions that will return to Market Square this year. However, because of the fluid nature of COVID-19 restrictions and the need to bring business into downtown stores and restaurants, Griffiths said the BIA decided not to invite vendors to this year’s downtown holiday event.

The events and attractions in Market Square will be free for everyone who comes downtown to shop. While most events will run both days, local musician Hannah Thomas will perform from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, and singer-actor Heather McGuigan will perform with actor Jade Repeta from 2 p.m to 3 p.m. and again with actor Scott Beaudin from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., also on Saturday. On Sunday, those who shop downtown will have the opportunity to mingle with some stilt walkers.

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As for the scavenger hunt, those who participate by hunting in 13 downtown shops for riddle cards will be entered into a special draw for an illuminated wooden advent calendar filled with chocolate from Chocolate Barr’s Candies, valued at more than $200. The scavenger hunt will continue up until Christmas Eve, with weekly prizes of 50 downtown dollars for those who participate.

There will also be a tap-donation stand and a cash-donation box in Market Square this weekend, where downtown shoppers can donate either money or winter clothing items like hats, mitts and scarves to The Connection Centre, which is expected to begin serving area homeless and other vulnerable residents at some point next month.

“The issue of homelessness has always been prevalent, but more so since COVID. And with increased housing costs, there’s limited rentals and limited ability even for someone who’s working to achieve housing,” said BIA general manager Rebecca Scott. “So I learned recently that the City of Stratford, in collaboration with Choices for Change and the United Way, are opening this hub for homelessness.”

Once it opens, The Connection Centre will offer temporary respite through the provision of basic needs like food, access to showers and laundry services, and safe storage of personal possessions. While the centre will not be a shelter, staff from Choices for Change will be on hand to help connect those in need with local social services and support agencies while also offering support through an outreach program to those without permanent housing and those living outside.

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“The Connection Centre is  meant to be a place for people who are homeless or precariously housed to come and get some connection with services and connection with housing opportunities,” Choices for Change executive director Catherine Hardman said. “Really, it is about how do we move them to housing, so there will be other services that come into play. The city, as well, has funded us to have outreach workers in the downtown core and they’re going to be working with folks who are living rough, and the Stratford police have offered us a vehicle to use for that outreach service.

According to United Way Huron-Perth executive director Ryan Erb, the local United Way is working to raise as much as $100,000 annually to keep the centre operating while the city will cover any remaining costs.

The BIA and the United Way will continue raising money for the centre after this weekend’s Winter Wander-land event through tap-donation stands stationed at different downtown businesses. To find out where to donate, follow the Stratford City Centre BIA on Facebook. Donations for The Connection Centre can also be made to the United Way Perth-Huron.

An announcement of where the centre will be located and when it will open is expected in the coming weeks.

gsimmons@postmedia.com

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