Kids across Canada's North will light up with smiles this Christmas after opening thousands of gifts – delivered because of huge volunteer efforts invested in the Toys for the North campaign. Among numerous other partners, the RCMP will collect all of the donated toys, co-ordinate transportation and then distribute the toys to children in selected isolated northern communities.
Cpl. Stacy Morton has witnessed the enthusiasm first hand.
Everywhere there was just a tremendous amount of excitement from the kids," says Morton, recounting a 2018 visit to deliver toys to schools in fly-in communities in Northern Ontario.
The toys –the bulk of which are donated in Ontario from toy companies – will be distributed to approximately 4,000 children, aged 5 to 12, in 26 isolated communities across Northern Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories.
The list of communities that receive toys is based on need and determined by First Nations Elders, councils and community leaders in conjunction with local RCMP detachment commanders.
These types of unexpected acts go a long way," says Eddie Meekis, head councillor of the Keewaywin First Nation, which is located 580 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay and is new to the list of toy recipients. "
Many of our families are financially disadvantaged so they are extremely appreciative, especially our little ones."
Marshalling a parade of toys
Toys for the North began in 2010, and were originally collected during Toronto's Santa Claus Parade by RCMP officers, many of whom knew first hand that communities in Canada's North were in need of support around Christmas time.
The RCMP is in a unique position to work and live in communities in the North. As such we understand the needs and have connections all over Canada and with other RCMP and Federal Government agencies," says Cpl. Robert Buller, the campaign's national co-ordinator, who began calling his supporters at partner agencies in July to ensure everyone was onboard for another year.
The RCMP collects all of the donated toys, co-ordinates transportation and then distributes the toys to children in selected isolated northern communities.
The campaign also receives support from the Canadian Toy Association, RCMP Veterans' Association, Canadian Armed Forces, North Star Air Ltd., the trucking company Gardewine Group – Transportation and Logistics, and Toronto-based Thomson Terminals. "
Without all of their help this would be very hard to do," says Buller.
Since its inception, Toys for the North has collected and distributed more than $866,000 in toys, some of which are collected at RCMP detachments in the Greater Toronto Area.
Volunteers, including retired RCMP officers, collect all the items, and send them to Thomson Terminals where they are sorted and packed.
When that's done, Thomson Terminals transports them to the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ont., where they are sent onboard already-scheduled training flights to Thunder Bay, Iqaluit and Goose Bay.
We're tagging along on an existing training flight so as long as there's no operational need, we have access to the personnel and the planes," adds Buller.
Once they reach their destination, RCMP volunteers and other community members repackage, wrap and deliver the toys to the selected communities.
Meekis, of the Keewaywin First Nation, is expecting this year's toy delivery to be an exceptional event, especially considering the challenges posed by the pandemic and community lockdowns.
I am certain that the joy and goodwill generated by the Toys for the North campaign will have a wonderful legacy that will last for many years," says Meekis, adding that he is thankful for the campaign's supporters. "
I only wish they could see the reaction of our families and children when they receive these unexpected gifts. Their smiles and giggles of joy will say it all from our community members, many who have little. This will truly be seen as a genuine Christmas miracle."