Holiday kids’ party delivers gifts, good times

“It’s giving kids a chance to be kids”



Hundreds of children packed into Iqaluit’s Cadet Hall for hot meals and Christmas gifts last Sunday.

It’s the third year of the holiday dinner, and the biggest one yet, organized by the city’s foster parents and social workers.

“This is the best year, by far,” said Ambrose Ojah, a Government of Nunavut social worker in Iqaluit, adding that more than 60 foster parents volunteered to make the event happen.

“These are the families we depend on to provide care and warmth and love to children, who need to have that stuff given to them. And it’s a year-round job. We salute them.”

Once kids finished their turkey, ham and potato salad, they began to gather around the piles of gifts: baby dolls, Batman action figures, toy trucks, foam baseball bats and board games. As the mob grew impatient, the event could have been mistaken a rock concert, rather than a holiday feast, as kids pressed and pushed to get near Santa.

“I was swarmed. I was being pushed back,” said the man in the red suit. Peter Clarke, 58, travelled from Victoria, British Columbia, to hand out the gifts. For the past 15 years, he’s helped organize shipments of toys and sewing supplies to Iqaluit for Christmas, but this is the first time he arrived in person to deliver them.

“It was a real thrill,” he said.

The project began with 75 toys sent to Baffin Regional Hospital, spurred by a friend who worked in Iqaluit as a surgeon. Now over a tonne of toys and sewing supplies are shipped to Iqaluit. From there, more boxes of gifts will be flown to communities around the Baffin region this week.

Sewing machines and wool are gifts that keep giving, Clarke said, because they help mothers provide their own clothing and toys for their families. They will be distributed through social services offices in communities, which Clarke hopes will have a spin-off effect: if social services offices become a place to sew and socialize, maybe people will be less afraid to ask for help there as well.

The toys and sewing supplies are paid for by donations to the Tunijjusiarut Foundation, which Clarke helped establish. Using business savvy (he’s a financial adviser for Investor’s Group) and appeals to charity, he manages to stretch $10,000 into a tonne of toys for Nunavummiut, operating with zero overhead.

“I’m a money manager. That’s my job, I do things cheap,” he said.

Vous avez le droit à l'égalité de traitement, Nunavut Human Rights Tribunal

Zellers provides toys at half price, while Canadian North flies those toys from Edmonton to Iqaluit free of charge, and on to the other Baffin communities.

“If I didn’t have Canadian North, this wouldn’t have happened, period.”

In Iqaluit, Northmart and Arctic Ventures donated food. As well, Marche Turenne in Quebec donated turkeys, ham and cake to feed 500. And the Iqaluit Legion donated their hall and a Santa outfit.

“We’re really a very small part of this. Everyone, everyone came together on this one. The difference between having an idea, and having it happen, is everyone else.”

As a foster parent himself, Clarke said he’s been around enough kids to remain calm during Sunday’s gift-giving frenzy.

“It’s giving kids a chance to be kids,” he said.

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