Local organizations commit to assist and prepare for a different holiday season
Relieve a little bit of that additional pressure around the holiday time
Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla - Staff Writer
Amid the pandemic and with Christmas just about a month away, several Sioux Lookout organizations remain committed to supporting and spreading joy among families in need this holiday season.
The Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre’s long-standing tradition of the Christmas Hamper Program, providing people with food and other supplies to enjoy a Christmas feast, will be expanding their service this year. The Executive Director for the Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre, Jennifer Thomas said, “We will continue with the food hamper program this year, although it will look a little different. We certainly will be providing that service to the community members and we’ve already started rolling out that program and very shortly the applications, which we simplified as well this year, will be available to the community.”
Thomas said that due to the additional need for support in the community during the pandemic, the Christmas Food Hamper program would see a substantial increase in the number of hampers available this year. She shared that the program usually provides approximately 120 hampers to the community. However, due to the financial restrains and hardships that people have endured through COVID-19, the program is preparing to put together around 200 hampers this year.
Thomas said, “We do it during Christmastime so we can ensure that people have the means necessary to have a nice Christmas dinner and have some additional food around the holiday time.” She added that the program aims to lessen the burden during the holiday season that can often prove to be very expensive. “It’s just to relieve a little bit of that additional pressure around the holiday time. Things can be very expensive. Unfortunately, sometimes we lose sight of the reason we’re celebrating Christmas and that time to spread kindness and gratitude for the things that we do have in our lives.”
Thomas said that unlike in the past, the food hamper program would not be seeking community donations this year. “Due to COVID-19 and the heath restrictions and mitigating any spread of the disease, we are going to ensure that we’re actually not going to be receiving donations. However, we’re going to be purchasing all of that food directly from our food distribution partners.”
Thomas added that monetary donations and gift cards are welcome and anyone looking to donate can contact the Friendship Centre at 807-737-1903 or 1-800-619-9519.
Sioux Lookout’s food bank is a year-round service that offers food supplies to those in need. The Executive Director of Out of the Cold Shelter, Susan Barclay said, “We do know that there are quite a number of people in this community who would need assistance with food and food security. People who are working also often do not have enough to stretch. Unexpected bills come up or things happen and they just don’t have enough money to stretch it through the whole month.” She added, “There certainly are people in this community who live paycheque to paycheque and can use an extra bit of food for the table. We can’t give them everything, but we certainly do our best to get them stuff that will help them out.”
Barclay said that people often collect and donate things that can be used as Christmas gifts for people in the shelter. “They bring in socks, mitts and hats and things like little bags with goodies and things for the folks that are using the emergency centre. That’s not something we go seeking but it just happens as people are so generous.”
She shared that the food bank services are in fact, “busier now than it was all summer because there was food available through the Friendship Centre, throughout spring and summer. So we are back to our normal numbers which is about 20 families a month, some of them come in more than once a month.” Barclay said that with several people often asking, the food bank also keeps aside a section of food that is suitable for lunches for the kids at school.
People looking to donate can contact the shelter at 737-7499, and can drop-off donations at 25 Fair St.
Thomas shared that moving forward, even outside of COVID-19 and the Christmas season, we may expect to see a little more support addressing food insecurities. “During COVID-19, it certainly provided people, and shed some light on our vulnerable populations and how we can as community members, support them more, and also having gratitude for the life that we’re currently living and the opportunities that we’ve been given in life as well.”
For over 25 years the First Step Women’s Shelter (FSWS) has been helping women and their children flee from conditions of violence and abuse. Through their Adopt-A-Family program, FSWS matches these families with a sponsor who assists by providing them with gifts and donations, guided by a “Wish List” provided to them by the shelter for shopping. People who may not be able to sponsor a family, but would like to contribute, can donate at the shelter, which will then be matched with a family in need. They added that donations of non-perishable foods and gift certificates are also welcome. Anyone looking to donate or for further information, can contact Laura at (807) 737-1438 or email [email protected].
The Executive Director for the First Step Women’s Shelter, Tana Troniak said, “The program is important in our community supporting each other about giving back. It’s about Christmas cheer. I think helping others is what Christmas is about. The community has always been generous in its support of this worthy cause… It’s a very generous community and people simply want to help.” She added, “Over the years this program has probably helped over 300 to 500 families. Last year we helped at least 10 families that lived in the shelter and over 40 families in our community. Each year the families in need increase.”