Inge Vandermeulen and Beverley McQueen Mitchell of Toronto couldn’t allow years of great work done by Northern Canada Mini Projects to just fade away with the untimely death of project founder Cindy Dhillon of Kamloops, B.C., this past June.
During Dhillon’s five years behind the initiative, Northern Canada Mini Projects shipped Christmas gifts to every Nunavut community at least once, with Chesterfield Inlet being an annual recipient of the gifts aimed at students and Elders since the initiative began.
The program concentrated its efforts on helping Northern schools, food banks, soup kitchens, Elders groups, mental-health initiatives and others that seem to be forgotten, unfunded or underfunded, Dhillon was quoted as saying in January 2021.
Dhillon would outline a community’s needs based on the information she would receive from a teacher, social worker, mental-heath worker, etc.
Southern folks would then access what they could offer from their own personal budgets and mobilize to help.
New members would usually join the Facebook-based initiative when its content and mission were shared with family and friends of someone already involved with the group, who believes in what it does.
Vandermeulen said she and Mitchell decided the work had to continue and co-founded Cindy’s Northern Canada Projects shortly after Dhillon’s death.
They informed the group’s old members about their efforts and got them to join the new initiative.
“I can’t believe the amount of work that woman did,” Vandermeulen said of Dhillon. “It took about 10 of us to do the envelopes this Christmas and she did it all by herself. Our youth and Elder envelopes are standardized and contain all the same items.
“Each envelop will have items such as a pair of funky socks, a fun pen, a book, etc., which are all chosen by the sender.
“So, while each envelope contains all the same items, they are, at the same time, all unique.”
The group sent about 120 envelopes to Chesterfield Inlet this year, some of which were adapted for special needs students.
Vandermeulen said the group was smaller in 2022 because of Dhillon’s passing, with 420 current members, not all of whom are active.
She said many of the members take advantage of Canada Post’s free shipping Tuesdays in October to send the donations, with Cindy’s Northern Canada Projects sending out more than 3,000 envelopes this past year.
“We don’t receive any funding. All our members pay for everything themselves. There are some groups, such as a Boy/Girl Scout group, a Team Ramadan and some neighbours who pool their resources.
“Personally, I hope my small contribution makes a difference for a child (or Elder) who may otherwise not receive any gifts.
“There are no words to describe Cindy (Dhillon). The amount of work this woman did is unbelievable.”