Manitoba town appreciates gifts from Creston

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It all started with apples. The people of Shamattawa, Man., with a population of only 1,000, located 1,300 kilometres north of Winnipeg, consider them a luxury. Creston residents know we are lucky, but we needed a little reminder of how fortunate we are to live in a town abundant with more than just lovely fruit orchards. With only a little effort and many friends, we sent a ton of apples to people who truly appreciated it.

In Shamattawa RCMP Const. Mark Ford’s email following the delivery to that northern town, he wrote: “We started to give them out. … Kids were all over them and filling their pockets. Forget the hotdogs, forget the juice and bars, they wanted apples. I took cases of apples to the school for each classroom to be given out through the day. All week, everywhere you looked, kids were eating apples and smiling.”  How great is that?

The following week, a box arrived at my desk, brought in by two coworkers. “Could you send this to those kids in Shamattawa for Christmas?” one of them asked. I looked inside and there were lovely outfits for little children.

I got a call that night from a lady who heard about the apple shipment and had read about Shamattawa on the Internet. “Are you doing anything for those kids for Christmas and can I help?” she asked. The next day, the same question came from someone stopping by. And the idea was born.

Christmas presents for every child in an entire town? How preposterous was it to think that just because a group of people care, we could provide all the parents in a small town a little help to make their children’s Christmas a little happier? Could it possibly be done?

Gifts kept coming in to the hospital daily. People heard of the project and phoned to ask how they could help. Margaret Berg came in specially to donate. Donations came in every day, in all amounts, from people who did not know what to give, but who wanted to help. With the donations, we went shopping in town. And the businesses helped us. Shauna, Terry and Veronica of the Bargain Shop, once they learned of our project, set out a wrapped box for customers to donate to. They jumped at the chance to help and offered discounts on every purchase and even went the extra mile by ordering in extra gifts from other Bargain Shops throughout the Kootenays. The Staff at Fields instantly offered to take 20 per cent off anything we purchased for Shamattawa and went through racks with us to find the perfect little gifts. Gerry at Mark’s Work Wear World offered a donation of lovely flannel PJs for both boys and girls. Overwaitea sent us candy canes and gift wrap. Pharmasave immediately sent a dozen beautiful scarves.  The businesses in town didn’t think of profits and losses, but of the bigger goal.

We started to get so many gifts at the front office of the hospital that we commandeered a meeting room to store and sort the gifts. More came each day. People that we knew wanted to help. The Creston Valley Hospital Tuck Shop, Regional District of Central Kootenay Areas B and C, and the Redeemer Lutheran Church, just to name a few organizations, gave so generously. Some gifts arrived anonymously, like an antique porcelain doll. Gifts came from Leo Thomson, Ed and Sylvia Turner, Sheila Staggs, Merwa Howatt, Signe and Ken Miller, Colleen Erickson and too many others to list. Each and every one of you chose to be a part of the spirit of Christmas. It was a humbling experience.

One morning, there was a beautiful little doll in a box. On the top of the box was a special message that made us all blink back tears. It read, “Hi, my name is Davina. I am eleven years old. I don’t know who you are, but I love you. Merry Christmas.” An eleven-year-old child cared enough about another to choose a gift and send it to another little girl who would treasure both the gift and the message! Davina, you gave each one of us a gift as well.

Our excitement grew each day. We were going accomplish this! Staff at the hospital came into the meeting room just to stare at all the gifts piling up on tables and sorted into boxes. They stayed on their breaks and so many staff like Cindy Aasen and Pernita Armstrong came in every day before work and stayed after work to help. Pernita’s daughters Reina and Cianna came in to help sort, count, pack gifts and label boxes.

But how would we ship it to Winnipeg? Two weeks after the project started, and within one week of sending our request to Greyhound Canada, we got our answer from regional operations manager Brad Scott. Greyhound was going to send Santa to drive a bus filled with gifts to Winnipeg! Staff cheered at the hospital when it was announced that Greyhound had donated so generously and we realized that Creston had done it and Christmas was going to be a little nicer for 767 children we would never meet, and it would be because of the help from Greyhound Canada and its employees.

Thank you, Brad Scott, Gloria, Frank Carroll and all the Greyhound drivers who took our boxes from Creston to your depot in Winnipeg. Thank you also to the lovely gentleman at the Winnipeg Greyhound Canada depot who contacted us to assure us that they had arrived and that they had packed them into trucks and delivered them directly to Winnipeg’s Perimeter Aviation depot for flying into Shamattawa. And, of course, we must thank Perimeter Aviation again for their help flying in these boxes to Shamattawa. Terry and Aiden Faulkner and Peter Van Dok were instrumental in getting all the boxes to the bus depot and Gloria who manages the depot here in town stayed open late to accommodate us after a full day of work.

We did it. Each and every person involved individually cared enough about another to commit to providing a gift for another parent’s child. The RCMP who work so hard and care about the young people in the community of Shamattawa could give them a gift, make them smile, surprise them — spread the Christmas spirit.

The RCMP and their friends in Shamattawa spent all their off-hours sorting, wrapping and delivering about 770 gifts, 54 boxes of them. What a job they had, all in the few days before Christmas! I wonder if Santa himself feels as tired after delivering all his gifts as those RCMP felt?

After Christmas, the joy has not stopped. The feelings are there. It was not just a few people who cared. We are a community that cares. Yes, we will send apples again to Shamattawa this year. Yes, we will continue to count our pennies, save for a toy for another child for Christmas 2011 and commit to giving to a town and its RCMP, which need our support, especially at Christmas. I know that Shamattawa had a merry Christmas, and in giving, so did Creston.