Nunavut’s toy trove threatened by lack of local help

“I need some feedback. I need to know whether this is worth continuing”



Nunavut’s Christmas angel is considering hanging up his halo.

For more than 15 years, the man nicknamed “Saint” Peter Clarke has harnessed his fundraising powers in B.C. to send tonnes of toys worth tens of thousands of dollars to Nunavut.

This year, hundreds of cheery kids and their families received brand-new puzzles, stuffed animals, and gift-wrapped dolls during a social services holiday party on Dec. 12 at the Royal Canadian Legion Cadet Hall in Iqaluit. About 100 leftover toys are bound for homes in Kimmirut, Cape Dorset, and Pond Inlet.

But Clarke said the donations will come to an end, if he doesn’t find a new helper to coordinate the toy distribution out of Iqaluit. His previous connection was Doug Sage, a former GN employee who left the community last year.

“The shipment coming up this year might be the last,” said Clarke, a 57-year-old investment planner in Victoria, B.C. “That’s because I’m dependent on someone in Iqaluit.

“I need some feedback. I need to know if this is worth continuing.”

Clarke was inspired to start up a foundation to benefit Nunavut children at Christmas in the 1980s. He called it the Quviasuusirniq Foundation, named after the Inuktitut word for giving a gift.

The foundation came to life after Clarke spoke with a friend who used to be a surgeon at the Baffin Regional Hospital. Clarke’s daughter was complaining at the time that their family was wasting time and money giving gifts to people “who didn’t need them or want them.”

Dr. John McIntyre, who later passed away, told Clarke about the poverty he witnessed in eastern Arctic, where many children received little or nothing for Christmas.

Clarke promptly announced to his family that they were opting out of the gift exchange between relatives, and that they would use their money to buy presents for needy Inuit children.

Clarke took particular interest in helping children who were receiving care from social services or foster parents.

“I’m trying to make a difference,” Clarke said. “If there’s something I can do tangibly that will hopefully help families, I will.”

Clarke said he would be happy to keep up the tradition of sending tonnes of toys to Nunavut, if he can find a new volunteer partner in Iqaluit.

The rest of the support is in place. Up to a hundred people make Clarke’s initiative possible, from the foundation’s individual donors, to corporate sponsors like Zeller’s superstore and Clarke’s own employer, the Investors Group.

The investing management group matches every dollar that Clarke can raise elsewhere. Zeller’s chips in, providing discounts on toys and free gift-wrapping. One Zeller’s employee, a Cree woman in Victoria, made sure that an Indian status card was used to wipe out the taxes on the toys.

According to Clarke, the employee said she put in the extra effort, because she used to receive only one Christmas gift per year when she was living on a reserve, from a church charity program.

Clarke’s most crucial backing comes from northern airlines, like Canadian North, which ships the toy cargo from Edmonton to Iqaluit for free. Kenn Borek Air often carries the toys to the smaller communities for free.

Clarke finds the possible demise of the program especially saddening because unlike a lot of fundraising charities, his foundation makes sure that “every penny raised is going to the kids.”

The foundation takes particular aim at children with developmental problems. Clarke and his wife have been foster parents for 50 children, mostly aboriginal kids, in the past two decades. Clarke said the experience lead him to take special stock of the needs of children with fetal alcohol syndrome.

To help children with FAS, the foundation insists that local pediatricians get first dibs on the toys they want their patients to play with. They also refuse to send battery-powered toys.

The foundation previously distributed free sewing machines and materials to women around Nunavut, as well.

To contact Clarke, phone (250) 727-9191 or e-mail [email protected].

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