November 29, 2016
Pickering News Advertiser
PICKERING – What started as a plea to help 350 children stay warm in an isolated northern community turned into a collection of more than 500 coats and a storage unit full of donated items.
“It’s been absolutely overwhelming, the generosity of people,” said Pickering resident Jacqueline Smart, one of the residents who got involved.
The initiative started when Pickering resident Johanne Blake got word from a friend, who taught at Chief Simeon McKay Education Centre in Kasabonika Lake First Nation, that the students from junior kindergarten to Grade 12 were in need of warm coats for the harsh winter.
Last year, Blake collected socks for the community. When she called someone in Kasabonika Lake this year to ask what they needed, she was surprised by the response.
“They said ‘why?’” she said. “Because they haven’t been given that help. They’re very humble people.”
The reservation, located 450 kilometres northeast of Sioux Lookout, faces temperatures between minus 20 Celsius and minus 40 C in the winter.
The median household income is around $30,000, compared to $60,000 in Ontario, and the cost of food and other essential items are often double and sometimes triple what it is in Durham.
Fellow Pickering resident John Currie jumped on board, and he and Blake started a simple coat collection, but soon, schools, churches, groups, businesses and individuals from across the GTA began helping in different ways and donating a variety of items.
“We hopped on social media,” said Currie. “That helped a lot.”
Resident Patricia Moore packed, sewed, washed coats, and made sure all the children received a candy cane. One boy collected hockey equipment, schools gathered personal hygiene products and an Aurora woman gave proceeds from her craft sale to the cause. Boxes and the storage unit were donated. Smart said her family in Newmarket and Richmond Hill helped, too.
“We’ve had so much given,” said Blake.
The items filled a 10-by-20-foot storage unit, donated by Parkway Storage, in just 35 days.
“It was nice to see people come together,” Currie said.
Since getting items to the area is challenging — it’s only accessible by air and winter road — Manitoulin Transport and Waysaya Airways donated their services to get them there.
“It makes my heart sing,” said Smart.
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