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Friends of Tikinagan: Canadians helping Canadians
by Kelly Waterhouse
DRAYTON - The recent media attention of deplorable living conditions in northern Native communities has many Canadians shaking their heads, wondering how this could happen in a nation that prides itself as being a mosaic of diversity, with human rights and dignity for all.
But out of tragedy often comes the best stories of human compassion and community spirit.
Such is the case with the people in north Wellington who have gathered their skills and resources together for a project they call Friends of Tikinagan.
“Mrs. Peggy Lee, from nearby Stirton, started this project by collecting in the community for a partnership that had developed between Wellington County Family and Children’s Services and the Family and Children’s Services in Tikinagan,” explained Evelyn Knetsch, the current project coordinator of Friends of Tikinagan, part of the Drayton Christian Reformed Church.
“She had people knitting items, donating sports equipment and warm clothes and she would store these in her home, then deliver them to [Wellington County Family and Children’s Services],” Knetsch said.
Cindy Bloomburg got involved via her mother-in-law, Roelly Bloomburg, who was an avid knitter for Lee. In 2000, Cindy took over the Friends of Tikinagan project until the collection took over her house.
“Before I knew it, my bedrooms will filling up with items one room at a time,” Cindy said with a laugh.
So the decision was made to move the collection to the Drayton Christian Reformed Church in 2005. A special room was created for the sorting and packaging of quality donated goods.
This year, Knetsch took on the task of administering the Drayton’s sort and pack crew, an enthusiastic group of community volunteers who do exactly what the name suggests - and they do it with pride.
“I was a registered nurse in Cochrane in 1976 and worked with many First Nations people, and since then I have always felt a passion to help them in a positive way,” Knetsch explained.
On Dec. 14, the Drayton sort and pack crew consisted of Hennie Hof, Teunie Laros, Marilyn Bridge, Gertie Hansma and Knetsch, a few of the 25 active volunteers involved in this project.
On this day, they were busy packing a very special shipment of quilts that had been donated by a single private donor in Mount Forest.
Laura Marchment, a 94-year-old woman with a gift for quilting, produced a total of 55 quilts of varying sizes in the span of three months, including five Afghans.
“When she called me to come pick them up, I had a feeling I didn’t hear her right,” Laros joked. “I thought she said 15. She does these quilts all by herself. It’s incredible.”
Marchment has been a quilter all her life and has made quilts and blankets for people in need overseas as part of her “On A Mission” ladies group at the Mount Forest United Church, which she started in 1996.
“I know there is a need for them wherever they go, but I like to think of helping our own people,” Marchment said.
“I know the need overseas is great but I do think we need to take care of our own people too. When you hear about how those people up on James Bay are living in terrible homes with no running water in the middle of winter, I think it is deplorable that they have to live like that.”
Marchment believes most Canadians don’t realize the severity of the situation in these Native communities because they don’t see it for themselves. She hopes her support will highlight the issue.
“It makes me think how lucky we are here,” Marchment said. “It’s nice to send the blankets out with people who know where the needs are.”
Bloomburg says she is overwhelmed by the continuous generosity from Marchment, who has supported the cause for many years.
“Laura is just an amazing woman,” Bloomburg said.
Knetsch noted other groups have done great work too.
“Arthur United sends us many great items, as well as the Blessings to You Centre in Palmerston, the Agriculture Society of Arthur, and our Drayton Christian Reformed Church gives a tremendous amount.”
Items include warm clothes, hand-made items, school supplies and sports gear. The collected items are then delivered to Speroway, a non-profit relief organization with a warehouse facility in Guelph.
Speroway is an active partner in the North South Partnership for Children (Mamow Sha-way-gi-kay-win), which is an organization started in 2006 that connects First Nation chiefs, elders and youths in 33 remote Native communities in northwestern Ontario with philanthropic organizations, universities and private citizens in southern Ontario.
“The blankets and other items are sent through North South Partnerships, which sends a truck of goods to Pickle Lake a couple of times per year,” Knetsch said. “From Pickle Lake it is flown into the 33 remote communities.”
Karen Ward, First Nation program coordinator with Speroway, overseas the delivery of these items and she knows first hand the positive difference this generosity makes.
“The people in these communities really do appreciate it,” Ward said.
“They feel connected to the people in the south, even though they don’t show it in ways like letters and photos, because that is not their traditional way of acting.
“The Drayton people give such good quality items that we’d have to disperse it to many communities, so everyone gets nice things.”
Ward says the latest quilt shipment from the Friends of Tikinagan will head north in February with a shipment of bunk beds, donated by other organizations. Children will receive a new blanket with their new bed.
“The best part is when you see the faces of the children,” said Ward.
Patricia Pearson, communications advisor for North South Partnerships, says the generosity of communities and groups like Speroway and the Friends of Tikinagan is about more than charity.
“It’s making a difference for sure,” Pearson said. “More than that, there is a sense that people care and that does more for their morale.”
She continued, “We’ve established a first-name basis with the people in these communities and we’ve established a genuine relationship, a kinship with these people.
“These are probably the most abandoned people on the planet and the genuine appreciation that people in the south even care, it matters.”
For Knetsch and her crew of volunteers, the service to others is about doing God’s work.
“I have been praying that God would show me areas where I can serve. I am thankful that we, as a community, with God’s help, are able to empower and provide comfort for those in dire straits,” Knetsch said.
“You do this from your heart,” added Laros, now in her sixth year with Friends of Tikinagan. “You don’t do it for yourself. You do it for the people up there. It is so important that people start to understand the Aboriginal people up north.”
Knetsch agrees: “It’s about rebuilding trust again, for them.”
For Cindy Bloomburg, the work she and her friends have done is all about the circle of friendship.
“We are their friends, and friends help each other,” she said. “These people need to have people support them. We all need support. I think these communities need to know we support them.”
For more information on these initiatives, visit www.northsouthpartnership.com or www.speroway.com. The Drayton Christian Reformed Church has a clothing depot at 88 Main Street East.
December 23, 2011
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