The next Hercules flight to northern Manitoba from CFB Shilo will contain more than just people and supplies — it will bring much needed Christmas cheer.
Soldiers on the base, located near Brandon, about 200 kilometres west of Winnipeg, have organized a toy drive for communities in the north struggling with COVID-19 outbreaks.
“Everyone’s taking a hit during COVID, but we think it was really important to help to come together as Canadians and First Nations and show our support and do something else, than just have boots on the ground, just to bring a smile to a child’s face over Christmas,” said Master Warrant Officer Clayton Nevell, who is helping organize the drive on base.
Nevell said the idea came from fellow members who had seen first-hand the struggles people in communities, such as Shamattawa First Nation, are experiencing. The fly-in community, located about 745 kilometres north of Winnipeg, has been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak for weeks.
Some 60 members of the Canadian Armed Forces have been in Shamattawa for about a week now, helping with tasks such as conducting wellness checks, delivering food hampers and contact tracing.
On Thursday, the federal government announced 35 members of the military, including some from CFB Shilo, will soon head to Red Sucker Lake First Nation, another northern fly-in community, to assist there as well.
“Just thinking about the affected children where they are right now and in the northern communities, especially in the holiday season … [we felt] a toy drive was the right thing to do, to come together as this Canadians and try to support First Nations community,” said Nevell.
Nevell said the response has been great, with boxes of toys, stuffed animals and other gifts collected, even though because holiday leave is underway, there are fewer personnel around the base.
Toys and other gifts will be collected until Saturday, Nevell said. He said the idea was borne out of CFB Shilo’s deployment to Shamattawa, but efforts will be made to get gifts to as many communities as possible.
“We do what we can to support our fellow Canadians.… This is our job. So I’m not really surprised” by how well the drive has been received on the base, he said.
Shamattawa Chief Eric Redhead called the drive a “wonderful gesture” and the children will appreciate the gifts.
Nevell said the toys will be sorted by age and gender before being loaded onto the next Hercules flight bound for northern Manitoba in the coming days. He said the gifts will be on the ground in northern Manitoba before Christmas.
“I just hope it brings a lot of smiles and brings up the morale a little bit,” he said.