Lions Club sends Santa, sunshine to Nunavut schools
“It’s a wonderful time”
Children in Naujaat are celebrating the 30th anniversary of a little extra Christmas cheer that’s sent to their Kivalliq community each year from Alberta.
Since 1988, every youth in Naujaat, from newborns to Grade 12, has received a Christmas present from the Edmonton City of Champions Lions Club.
The presents arrive already wrapped and personally labelled with the names of each young person in the community of around 1,100 people.
Last year that Lions Club sent around 540 gifts.
“For some kids, it might be the only gift they get. It’s a pretty exciting time … They always look forward to it, particularly the smaller kids,” said Aubrey Bolt, the principal at Naujaat’s Tuugaalik High School.
The community’s two schools also partner with church groups in Ontario and Nova Scotia that in some years send gifts, so that sometimes children will get two presents in the mail.
Families will come out for a Christmas gathering where Santa passes out the presents. Many youth will save their gifts, taking them home to open over the holidays.
“A lot of children are from big families, and things are expensive. Parents do the best they can. It’s important to make sure (children) get at least one gift,” Bolt said.
Each year, when Santa walks down the hallways of Tusarvik Elementary School ringing his bell, all the young students come running, said principal Bonnie Russell.
“It’s a wonderful time,” she said.
This year, those festivities happened on Thursday, Dec. 6, when the school held a prize draw for parents of children with high attendance.
Except for a few close calls due to weather, the Lions Club presents have always arrived on time.
To make that happen, it’s club member Richard Jackman and his wife Cathy who help Santa behind the scenes by shopping for gifts in the South.
“We spend five to six hours shopping,” said Jackman, who has been picking out those presents for 30 years.
Every year, the Jackmans receive a list of Naujaat children’s names and ages from the schools and from the health centre. They even pick out presents for infants due to be born shortly after the holidays.
Usually, the couple choose three different gifts for each age group of girls and boys. They also keep track of what they sent in recent years, and the names of what each child received, so that a youth won’t get the same present two years in a row.
They send gifts like camping gear, skidoo mitts, lotions and makeup, Tonka trucks and craft kits, watches and toy robots.
The club does fundraisers throughout the year to raise money for this kind of charity work. The Naujaat gift project costs $5,000 annually, and all shipping fees are donated through in-kind work by a trucking company called Manitoulin Transport and northern airlines like Canadian North and Calm Air.
Over the years, the schools have shown their appreciation for the presents by sending Christmas cards, photos and videos to share some scenes from their community.
One time, a class wrote thank-you cards in Inuktitut and sent a language key for the club members to translate their cards.
“Sometimes things are tough in isolated communities,” Jackman said. “We’re just trying to make life a bit happier. To give them a bit of sunshine when there’s no sunshine around.”