Floods, blizzards, fires – the apocalypse is going on around her, but that’s not stopping this lover of the North from spreading holiday cheer.
“Life doesn’t stop just because Mother Nature’s gone a little crazy,” said Cindy Dhillon from Kamloops, B.C., a city currently providing refuge for people displaced from historic floods in the province.
When Kivalliq News called, a blizzard was raging outside her window, while the transportation corridors connecting the rest of the province to the greater Vancouver area were out of commission; cell phone lines were spotty at best, as landslides took out infrastructure; and all of that is on top of a summer full of wildfires that saw one entire town, Lytton, burn to the ground – not even to mention the tragic news of residential school discoveries in Kamloops that set off a chain of investigations and reconciliation.
But on the phone, Dhillon is as cheery as her management of the endlessly positive and energetic Facebook group Northern Canada Mini Projects would suggest.
The group might have ‘only’ 640 members, but one would be hard pressed to find a more active and giving community.
How the group works: Dhillon posts Northern communities that could use some love, and dozens and even hundreds of comments flood in from southerners arranging packages to send up. She has arranged gift campaigns for every community in the North, regularly theming them to holidays, students, Elders or otherwise.
She even goes the extra mile by using her resources in communities to find all the Elders’ names and what they might like to receive so that members can tailor their presents to individual recipients.
In a recent Christmas gift campaign, Dhillon reported that more than 5,500 gifts were destined for Northern students this year.
“I just became aware of issues doing a Google search across the newsfeed one day,” said Dhillon, who has been running the group for six years and has never been to the North herself. “There are a lot of struggles in the North that people just aren’t aware of until it’s brought to their attention.”
She clarifies that the members of her group aren’t ‘saviours’ of the North; they are simply good Samaritans who want to help.
“After a lifetime of not knowing or being formally educated on what unique and sometimes heartbreaking challenges Inuit and Indigenous groups are faced with, the board offers (southern members) a place to go, be educated and consciously do something about it,” said Dhillon.
Politicians and governments can sometimes go in circles trying to address needs and figuring out who pays for what, said Dhillon, so in the meantime, the group steps in and fills any needs members can.
Many southerners are completely ignorant about what goes on in the North, she added, and are outraged when they find out about some of the conditions and government neglect.
The cost for sending gifts is entirely on the givers, who pay for the presents and shipping themselves. Hundreds of photos adorn the group’s page of packages being taped up, ready to send out or arriving at their final destinations. The group loves to see photos of Northerners receiving the presents.
Beyond gifts, the group also organizes fundraisers for things like soup kitchens, food banks and student travel to sports events.
If she wins the lottery, Dhillon plans to finally go north herself and see the people she’s been sending gifts. In the meantime, she’d rather use any spare cash for more presents than a plane ticket for herself.
If you know a community in need, search for the group on Facebook and ask to join – they would love to hear more.