Community halls lined with boots, socks, mitts, scarves, toques.
Classrooms with stacks of wrapped gifts.
Smiling students holding manila envelopes full of school supplies.
These are some of the recent scenes in various Nunavut communities thanks to an army of donors in southern Canada who send aid through a group known as Northern Canada Mini Projects.
“We concentrate our efforts on helping Northern schools, food banks, soup kitchens, Elder groups, mental health initiatives and others that seem to be forgotten, unfunded or underfunded,” said Cindy Dhillon, the mastermind behind the organization, which was formed four years ago.
During that time, Northern Canada Mini Projects has shipped gifts to every community in the territory, some of them multiple times.
Since the group's inception, 17,542 Christmas presents have been sent to Northern Students, 1,352 food boxes have been dispatched to Elders and fundraising has amounted to more than $68,000, according to Dhillon, who resides in Kamloops, B.C.
That's not an exhaustive list of all that the organization has done, just a sample.
“Our (donors) are just average southern Canadians with big hearts ... our team of average Canadians have done spectacular life-changing things to support and spread love to many Northern communities in many different ways,” she stated. “When I get information about a community from a teacher, social worker, mental heath worker, etc., I outline the needs of a community and individuals in the south access what they can offer from their own budgets and mobilize to help. We get members to join our Facebook group usually by someone already on the group who believes in what we do and shares with their own friends and family.”
Northern Canada Mini Projects started out by sending assistance to one school through a 'secret Santa' campaign.
“It was meant to be like a Samaritan’s Purse only for Canada’s Arctic kids, and when I framed the project and described how wonderful things came in small packages, more people were convinced they could participate and put a smile on a child’s or Elder’s face,” Dhillon recalled. “We are aware some of the poorest kids in Canada live in Northern Canada and we think they deserve to know Santa is still thinking of them regardless of their geography and the socio-economic details of their household.”
The initiatives continued to grow. Over the past couple of months alone, many packages were sent to Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk, Chesterfield Inlet, Arctic Bay, Taloyoak, Qikiqtarjuaq, Pond Inlet, Arviat and Sanikiluaq.
More help will soon be on the way to Sanikiluaq. When Dhillon learned of the recent death of Silatik Qavvik, she created a project that's been named “Lisi Love.” It will consist of a quilt sewn together with fabric squares contributed by numerous members of Canada Northern Mini Projects. Lisi is the name of Qavvik's newborn daughter, whom she delivered about a month before her death.
Cards of condolences are also being mailed to Qavvik's family.
In Pond Inlet, Nezha Soumir helped distribute gifts to approximately 300 people in December and she's aware of the joy that the contributions brought to local elementary school students.
“The people here in Pond Inlet are appreciating what we are doing for them and for their children,” said Soumir, who plays an integral role in the community's food bank, along with her husband.
Dhillon has never lived in Northern Canada, nor have many of her fellow donors. Yet they refer to the Northerners they help as “family.”
“Once we found out the things that Northerners struggled with and how we could help, it was impossible to look away,” said Dhillon. “Geographically, we are spread out, but our hearts are with the residents of Canada’s North and we are so happy to help in the small ways we can.”