It was a cry for help—a cry that The Salvation Army paid close attention to.
God’s Lake Narrows, a First Nation community located 550 kilometers northeast of Winnipeg, doesn’t get a lot of visitors. The remote, untouched wonderland made up of forests, amazing lakes and a community rich in culture and history, is only accessible by air or by boat.
While there is no access to an all-weather road, from January to mid-March, during the winter, an ice road makes the community reachable by car or by truck. And there is a direct relationship between access to a community and costs for basic necessities. Limited accessibility and high cost of freight means a spike in the prices of food, clothing and practical needs.
Winter roads, although built for anticipated eight-week usability, are not reliable. In 2012, mild weather swept through Manitoba and the ice road in God’s Lake Narrows was forced to close. With its winter lifeline cut off, prices of goods skyrocketed.
For example, 4-litres of milk costs approximately $15. The same bag costs $4.59 in central Ontario. And winter wear for a child in God’s Lake Narrows is nothing short of $80. At Walmart an insulated, fleece-lined, hooded jacket is $30. In a community where many live from paycheque to paycheque, or are supported by social assistance, the dramatic impact of soaring costs on household budgets was the talk of the town.
Not surprisingly, residents were beside themselves and called The Salvation Army with a request to help with clothing needs.
On November 8, after several months of planning and partnering with the Chief and people of God’s Lake Narrows, The Salvation Army, courtesy of its National Recycling Operations in Winnipeg, covered the $5,000 cost of freight and delivered 2,100 pounds of gently used and new clothing for the hurting community to distribute.
“We buzzed with anticipation and perhaps a few nerves as our small aircraft landed on the single, slick and ice-covered, runway at God’s Lake Narrows,” says Major Deborah Bungay, Area Commander for The Salvation Army’s Prairie East Division. “But amidst snow, wind, and temperatures that felt like -20 degrees we were warmly greeted by the community’s Chief and Band Council members.”
In keeping with culture and tradition, Major Bungay offered a personal gift to the Chief. “I gave him Sweet Grass, which represents healing and renewed perspective,” says Major Bungay. “The Salvation Army wanted to ensure this community that we are here to walk alongside and journey with them during these troubling times.”
Throughout the visit of slightly more than two hours, needs were evident. Clothing was only one piece of the poverty puzzle that this community faces. School children need shoes. The school breakfast program needs nutritious food. The youth centre needs sports equipment. The list goes on.
The people of God’s Lake Narrows are a gracious people. They invited the Army back in better weather for a cultural welcome and celebration—a time to get to know the people.
And while they couldn’t control their circumstances, they controlled how they responded to them.
For God’s Lake Narrows no dream is too small, no challenge is too great. They are true heroes.