Founder of Winnipeg Harvest
Lee is the 44th inductee since the program’s inception in 1986 when former Mayor Stephen Juba was chosen as the first recipient of the Citizens Hall of Fame award. Many inductees have been chosen in part for their community service including Sister Geraldine MacNamara who both personally and professionally served the less fortunate in our community.
Lee Newton is the third inductee to be recognized solely for her community service. She truly exemplifies this award category in the Citizens Hall of Fame program.
“In many respects I see Lee Newton as a social entrepreneur, an inspirational one at that, where she identified a real community issue – hunger. After seeing a documentary in the early 80s about a food bank in New York, her eureka moment came and she did something about it,” said King. “She approached the solution in a very pragmatic way since there was so much waste in all the surplus food that was being thrown out throughout the city.”
Lee Newton, a posthumous selection who passed away in 2014, started Winnipeg Harvest in 1985 on her 33rd birthday. Little did she know what a bountiful gift she would give to Winnipeg in the incredible legacy this non-profit food bank has left in its mission to feed thousands of people each month through an army of volunteers.
“Far from just providing her food for thought, Newton germinated the seed of this idea and put her vision into action. Today Winnipeg Harvest distributes 12 million pounds of food to more than 340 agencies per month and feeds nearly 64,000 people across Manitoba, almost half of which are children,” said King.
Winnipeg Harvest is Winnipeg’s largest food bank and food distribution centre. Volunteers have become its lifeblood to sort, prepare and deliver food hampers. Many of them were recipients themselves of Winnipeg Harvest’s generosity so they are paying it forward. It was estimated one year equates to 347,000 volunteer hours or the equivalent of 170 full-time jobs.
Nominees who put Newton’s name forward for consideration said “It was Lee’s life purpose and passion to found Winnipeg Harvest to effectively and immediately address the issue of hunger on our streets and within our communities”. They further stated, “Through raising awareness, feeding the hungry, and providing hope and opportunities through its many programs and endeavours, Lee Newton’s legacy, Winnipeg Harvest, has given hope to and changed the lives of thousands of people in our communities.”
After serving as President of the Board in its formative years, Newton moved on to run the volunteer program, focusing her efforts on some profile fundraising efforts which still carry on today. One of many successful undertakings was the Empty Bowl Celebrity Auction which in 2016 raised over $400,000. Lee Newton would write personal letters to celebrities such as Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, Bob Geldof and Sir Richard Branson with the request to send her a celebrity bowl. Examples of a myriad of programs offered by Winnipeg Harvest include Hunger for Hope, Tin for the Bin and the gardeners’ grow-a-row.
“She literally did not leave any stone unturned in her outreach to the community to build awareness and support for feeding our hungry,” said King.
Lee Newton was awarded the YMCA/YWCA “Women of Distinction” award in 2005 for Community Volunteerism. It is also fitting that a special Lee Mae Newton Excellence Award has been created in her memory by Winnipeg Harvest to be “dedicated to an individual or a volunteer family that contributes to the spirit and operation of Winnipeg Harvest in a way that strengthen individuals or families who struggle with low-income issues in Winnipeg”.