Campaign delivers winter coats to remote First Nations communities in Northern Ontario

Coats and other winter clothing items can be dropped off in Peterborough and Cobourg until November 17

Nova, a child in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation (a fly-in community in the boreal forest of Northern Ontario), reacts as she receives her new donated winter coat. (Photo: Kawartha Truth and Reconciliation Support Group)
Nova, a child in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation (a fly-in community in the boreal forest of Northern Ontario), reacts as she receives her new donated winter coat. (Photo: Kawartha Truth and Reconciliation Support Group)

A local truth and reconciliation support group is renewing its campaign to deliver winter coats to remote First Nations communities in Northern Ontario.

The Kawartha Truth and Reconciliation Support Group (KTRSG) first initiated the coat drive campaign in 2015, at the request of Sandra Mckay of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, a fly-in community in the boreal forest of Northern Ontario.

Mckay had asked KTRSG member Laurie Siblock to consider organizing the coat drive, as many of Mckay’s six children and 10 grandchildren needed new winter jackets, but the high cost of living, personal health challenges and lack of employment opportunities make it almost impossible to purchase warm winter wear.

Siblock was happy for the opportunity to repay the kindness and generosity the Mckay family and the people of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug had shown her when she attended a reconciliation event there in 2014.

As well as providing warm winter wear for 10 northern communities, the coat drive creates an opportunity for Canadians in southern Ontario to ally with First Nations and learn about the challenges people in northern communities face. The program also fosters many conversations, education in schools, volunteerism, and lasting relationships between people in northern First Nation communities and Canadians in the south.

The Peterborough Victoria Northumberland Clarington Catholic District School Board (PVNCCDSB) is partnering with the campaign for the third year, providing a public drop-off point. Kawartha Missions in Fenelon Falls is also collecting for the drive.

This year, Lang Pioneer Village Museum in Keene will be providing a location for sorting and packing the coats for transport to these fly-in communities.

Honouring Indigenous People, a charitable organization whose board is evenly comprised of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Rotarians, is providing the logistics to get the shipment of coats to the communities and fundraising to help support the sustainability of the drive. They are inviting contributions at www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/HIP/coatdrive.

The coats are destined for 10 communities: Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, Kasabonika Lake, Kingfisher Lake, Bearskin, Muskrat Dam, Neskantaga, Pikangikum, Wapekeka, Wawakapewin, and Wunnumin Lake.

These communities, located hundreds of kilometers north of Thunder Bay, experience temperatures that average -20°C to -29°C in the winter, with lows of -49°C and even colder with the wind chill. The cost of winter clothing — as well as necessities like toiletries and even food — is extremely expensive in these fly-in communities because of the cost of transportation.

Students from St. John Catholic Elementary School in Peterborough with the coats they collected for the 2016 Northern First Nation Coat Drive. (Photo: Kawartha Truth and Reconciliation Support Group)
Students from St. John Catholic Elementary School in Peterborough with the coats they collected for the 2016 Northern First Nation Coat Drive. (Photo: Kawartha Truth and Reconciliation Support Group)

Siblock urges people to dig into their closets for warm coats they no longer need or consider buying a coat to donate.

“It’s a great thing for families to do together, to go out shopping for warm winter wear to help a child in a remote community stay warm this winter,” says Siblock.

The drive also accepts snow pants, snowsuits, boots, hats, mittens and scarves of all sizes. The donated goods must be clean and in good condition. Items not suitable for sending to the communities will not be accepted.

In Peterborough, items can be dropped off at PNVCCDSB at 1355 Lansdowne St. W., and in Cobourg at 300 Division Street.

For other drop-off locations (Durham Region, Curve Lake First Nation, Lakefield and Toronto) and information about the communities receiving the coats, visit the Northern First Nations Coat Drive Facebook page.

Donations will be accepted until 4 p.m. on Friday, November 17, 2017.

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