It has all the ingredients of a classic Christmas tale: a busy workshop, dozens of helpers, and seasonal gifts that fall from the sky. But if you were expecting what follows to include a red suit, elves, and reindeer – you’re in for a surprise.
“I wonder if people really know how truly far we are from the North Pole,” laughs Lt. Laurie Sauder. Although Yellowknife is “north” by the standards of most Canadians, a web search reveals that the geographic north pole is, indeed, more than 3000 kilometres from the NWT capital.
Still, this “southern” location does distribute the joy of the season and traditional Christmas hampers by air – it just doesn’t involve Rudolph. For decades, The Salvation Army has partnered with other agencies and the community to meet the special challenges imposed by life in the North.
Laurie explains that many families are not able to pick up Christmas hampers. Some live in communities that are a thousand kilometres away. The journey to the city can be 16 hours long and involve crossing lakes by ice road. Others are 15 minutes away by air, but a full day if driving by car. However, it isn’t the remoteness alone that needs to be considered; the cost of a Christmas dinner is out of reach for many. Groceries are expensive; the normal prices can be ten dollars for milk and six dollars for cups of fruit, but at the extremes a bag of flour can run to $50 and a turkey could be considered a luxury item at $200.
Since the 1980s, The Salvation Army in Yellowknife has put together a holiday hamper for isolated families throughout the north. This year, 248 families in eight communities have benefited from the program; a slightly higher number are distributed within Yellowknife. Tom Beaulieu, Member of the Legislative Assembly for Fort Resolution and Lutselk’e, makes the delivery in person, about an eight-hour drive from Yellowknife, but most of the goods are flown to partner agencies who distribute throughout their communities.
Air Tindi and another anonymous supporter provide the airlift. The program is funded through The Salvation Army general operations and a grant provided by the Power Corp, and the donated flights save thousands of dollars. Because of the limited cargo space, the hampers are smaller than those in the city; contents have to be confined to the necessities: turkey, dressing, cranberries, hot chocolate, boxed potatoes, and chocolate cake. Laurie would like to help with the delivery, but those cargo restrictions make that impossible. “If we put more people on the plane, that means several hampers can’t make it.”
The best planning in the world isn’t always able to counter the challenges of a Canadian winter. This year’s delivery is scheduled for December 12-16, but adjustments sometimes have to be made if a storm arrives.
“It’s the most unique program I have ever been involved with,” says Laurie. “It’s incredible to think about how vast the distances are, and how something simple can really impact and be so meaningful. It’s a pleasure to assist. I’m so grateful for the support of the community and all the work they do to make this happen.”