The Christmas spirit started in January this year. The residents of Creston Valley kept Shamattawa, Man., in our thoughts. Our neighbour to the northeast in a remote region of Manitoba has been in our thoughts for the last four years.
Yes, it has been four years since that fateful Thanksgiving dinner where friends met Mark Ford, a young RCMP officer who was stationed in Shamattawa. Inspired by his commitment to the community he was working in, residents of Creston learned of a fly-in-only town previously unknown to us, a little town with about 700 children who do not have the things we take for granted, simple things like fresh apples. In a recent report on the community, it was noted that “61 per cent of the housing is in need of major repair, unemployment is rampant and just five per cent of the population has a high school diploma.”
Grateful for our blessings and the knowledge that our valley provides our community and beyond with fresh fruit and vegetables, the residents of our valley have grown together in our endeavor to share our bounty with others less fortunate.
Our project to provide fresh fruit and a gift for each child in Shamattawa for Christmas this year had its challenges. We needed to collect for 695 children according to the Shamattawa band’s own count. But where would we store the lovely gifts coming in daily and, the most troubling, how would we ship them?
Shukin Orchards graciously donated sorting and storage space for our growing collection of gifts — and an amazing 635 kilograms (1,400 pounds) of fresh, beautiful apples.
We held garage sales to raise money for gifts and shipping costs. We thank all the volunteers, like Terrie Faulkner and Signe Miller and the Shukin children, who assisted at those sales and all the people who came out to support us by purchasing the treasures.
People volunteered to help sort, pack and box gifts, making new friends along the way, sharing excitement when opening a donated box or bag and seeing a thoughtful gift for another child, and seeing the artistic skill and dedication of people like Jacquie Ringstad, who knitted 27 pairs of beautiful slippers. Gifts came from all over the valley and the East Shore: toys, makeup, Nerf and Lego, teddy bears, dolls, games and more. Gifts were received from businesses such as from Debbie Keirn and the staff at Mark’s, which will make teenagers happy, and from Extra Foods staff like Jo Jo and Joanne who, with the support of owner Ryan Leeming, generously donated gifts and personal items. And Gleaners supported our project with gift bags, Christmas stockings and more.
One of our greatest joys this year was watching the support from our children. With the fantastic support of Rachel Vlachos of Kidtastic Children’s Clothing and the schools’ announcement in their newsletters, an outpouring of gifts arrived from Creston’s schoolchildren, complete with Christmas cards for those children far away.
The Beehive Quilters sewed all year and produced 30 gorgeous quilts for the people. Their talents and generosity show no limit. Each year, the RCMP detachment looks forward to those gifts particularly, as they give individual quilts to those most in need.
So many people came on their own with a gift from their heart. Generosity is boundless here in our valley. Ask and ye shall receive is what we have found. A request went out for 14 more Hot Wheels, as we had 72 and needed 86 for our boys aged five to eight. Within a day, three arrived. Within a week, we had 14.
Heart-stirring support came from Anita Storm, Lezlie Hewitt, Tamara Nelson, Bonnie Storm, Carolyn Hawton, Dawn Terrill, Joe Esler, Sylvia and Ed Turner, Eleanor Zander and many more individuals too numerous to count who believe in helping those less fortunate.
With our boxing parties occurring on a regular basis, our group discussions became concerns about shipping. How would we get 3,000 pounds, including apples and 99 boxes of gifts to Thompson, Man., ready to be flown in by Perimeter Aviation? Perimeter Aviation let us know that they would help us fly in the boxes and made a benevolent donation for the community and halved the normal price of shipping. With the generous support of the Columbia Basin Trust, the Shamattawa group, as we are dubbed, knew that we would be able to pay the shipping cost to fly our gifts from Thompson into Shamattawa. But how would we get our four pallets with those 135 boxes to Thompson?
Enter Columbia Brewery, under the leadership of Murray Oswald, with its gracious help in shipping from Creston to Winnipeg. With the knowledge and assistance of brewery logistics manager Grant Penn and administrative assistant Lana Edmonstone, arrangements were made to have Creston Parcel driver Matt pick up pallets from Shukin Orchards and transport them to the Columbia Brewery warehouse, on his own time, as a donation. From there, Columbia Brewery’s transport drivers moved 1,360 kilograms (3,000 pounds) over 1,600 kilometres (994 miles) to their depot in Winnipeg. Without their donation, our project would not have been successful. Our deepest gratitude goes to Columbia Brewery who gave assistance purely to help our community’s efforts, without regard for their ledger books — the truest meaning of the Christmas spirit.
In Winnipeg, a young man, Troy Smith, volunteered to ferry all those gifts from the Labatt Breweries depot to the Gardewine North warehouse. Young people still continue to impress.
For four years now, Gardewine has helped Creston by transporting our gifts from Winnipeg to the Thompson Municipal Airport, which is no small feat — Thompson is 739 kilometres north of Winnipeg. That means eight hours of driving in all types of weather for those truckers, to help us help the children. With the supervision of Gardewine’s Jim Sinclair and Jordan Menec, the parcels were picked up and safely on their way to Thompson, free of charge, again in the spirit of giving and generosity. We all know that Santa’s own elves were behind the wheels of those trucks.
Once flown into Shamattawa, the RCMP and the band council worked together and, led by Const. Eric J. Descoteaux, they distributed those 1,400 pounds of apples supplied by Shukin Orchards. That gift of fresh fruit alone makes those children smile. Can you imagine what our gifts at Christmas will do for them? The RCMP once again will play Santa’s helpers in order to help to give gifts to the children.
Our deepest gratitude and thanks to each and every one of you who cared enough to contribute to our Christmas by Creston project. The children of Shamattawa will wake on Christmas morning this year and know that Santa came to their home. They will have a gift this year because of the community, once again, coming together, making spirits bright.
Merry Christmas to all!
—BY MURIEL BUHR