Mitaanjigamiing hopes to spark goodwill

Ken Kellar
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Mitaanjigamiing First Nation is issuing a challenge to help out an organization and individuals in need.

Chief, members of council and administration of the First Nation were in town last week in order to make a donation of $1,700 to the Out of the Cold Warming Centre located at the former Apostolic Way Church. The donation, said First Nation manager Ed Morrison, was made in lieu of their annual staff Christmas party, as the staff met to see if there was any way to celebrate safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had a staff meeting and we decided not to congregate,” Morrison said.

“We had an extra budget and our staff decided to make a donation to this centre in support of the people that need it more. It was unanimous, our staff decided it.”

The idea to use the leftover budget as a donation came in part from Mitaanjigamiing First Nation Chief Janice Henderson, who also sits on the homelessness committee.

“When Ed was having that discussion about what we wanted to do [with the extra budget], that’s what I posed as an option,” she explained.

Morrison said the staff recognize the importance of the warming centre, framing it as “a need in our district,” particularly as a large number of people who use the centre in fort Frances come from other surrounding communities, including Mitaanjigamiing First Nation.

“We just want to be a part of taking a proactive approach in terms of helping everybody that needs the help,” Morrison said.

“A number of First Nations, including ours, have people that live in Fort Frances and require this service,” Henderson added.

While the donation proper was made back in December, Handerson said that the First Nation staff and council members wanted to make sure there was an opportunity to take a photo of a cheque hand-off in order to hopefully spur others into making a similar donation to help support the centre.

“We’d like to challenge any organizations out there, and other First Nations, to make a donation to match,” she said.

“Any contribution is appreciated.”

Homelessness committee member Sandra Weir echoed the chief’s statement, and stressed that while the centre has received funding to keep it going, the fact that each subsequent year has seen the Out of the Cold centre opened and operational for a longer period of time means the funding can only go so far.

“The donation is needed and certainly appreciated,” she said.

“Donations help carry us through the year. We do have some funding that has been set aside through the Community Homeless Initiative, however, we do rely heavily on community donations. Usually it’s about $50,000 that we need in donations in order to do the things that we do and be open the length of time that we’re open.”

Weir and homelessness committee co-chair Jamie Petrin both figure that without community donations the centre would never have gotten off the ground to begin with, nor be able to continue to run. Add onto that the demand to be open for a longer period of time over the course of the cold winter months, and that community support remains as important as ever.

“There was lots of pressure last year to make sure that we were opening for a lengthy period of time,” Weir said.

“So it’s important that people continue to help support the initiative to make sure people have a warm safe place to be during the winter.”

The ongoing COVID pandemic has impacted many of the ways the Out of the Cold Warming Centre would typically operate, from having to cut back on accepting volunteers to forcing the cancellation or rescheduling of annual fundraising events, so while members of the public looking to lend a hand may not be able to do so in person, there’s still a way to donate to help keep everyone in Fort Frances warm this winter, and in the future.