Operation Point North 2016

At St. Mary’s (Windsor-Walkerville) they decided to mark 75 years of the Anglican Church Women in Huron by addressing the issue of high food cost in northern communities in Ontario. With the assistance from the Windsor Flying Club and the support of the Deanery of Essex, help was on the way to the Diocese of Mishamikoweesh.

By Ruth Kivinen

At St. Mary’s (Windsor-Walkerville), we have sent bales to the Far North as far back as we can remember. This year we wished to gather 75 lbs for 75 years to send along in conjunction with all of ACW’s to the north, to the town of Kingfisher Lake, in the newly formed Diocese of Mishamikoweesh.

In the late spring we gathered our donations of clothes, school supplies and dried food goods. When we had packaged all our goods and weighed all our boxes we were happily surprised to discover we had gathered a total of 137 lbs for shipment. We weren’t too happy to discover the high cost of postage to ship 137 lbs. to Kingfisher Lake.

Our ACW met again in June to repackage everything in smaller boxes at lower weights to reduce costs and to consider two or three separate shipments. As the group contemplated repacking and perhaps making two shipments I pondered alternative ways to ship. I gave this a lot of thought and prayer and I also began to research Kingfisher Lake and the northern communities.

The only access to Kingfisher Lake is by air, there are no roads in or out except for a short window of two weeks in February via the ice roads (if the winter is cold enough to freeze the lakes).

3-3webThe majority of all the small towns and villages in the diocese of Mishamikoweesh face this same problem, which creates extraordinarily high food costs. What a family of four spends on food in Southern Ontario is doubled in the north and for some items it is triple the cost. A small jar of peanut butter is 7.95 a small jar of jam 6.95 and a regular size bottle of ketchup is 13.95. Fresh vegetables, fresh produce of any sort is virtually unaffordable due to shipping costs to the northern communities.

My daughter had previously lived in Calgary and I had found that it was cheaper for me to send packages on flights with persons who were already going to Calgary than it was to pay postage. The problem was no one travels to remote communities for casual visits, so I was having difficulty finding anyone traveling past North Bay, which isn’t quite halfway and once there, no way to send them further as not many people travel to the Far North.

Later in June while volunteering at the Deanery of Essex’s annual golf tournament, I met a fellow Anglican and friend (William Crosby), who also happens to be a pilot. A plan was hatched and William Crosby offered to talk to the group of pilots at the Windsor Flying Club.

The Flying club requested that I give them a presentation that would explain just what it was we were hoping to accomplish. I attacked my research with a fever, I knew I had to be able to answer a slew of questions from people who had never heard of Kingfisher Lake, the ACW or bales.

I also decided to contact the people of Kingfisher Lake and ask them to tell me what they wished to see happen. Would someone be able to pick up the bales? What did they need and who was best person to help me coordinate everything at their end?

I connected with Reverend Ruth Kitchekesick, who is at St. Matthews in Kingfisher Lake, and over several emails and many phone calls we created a friendship and she has led me to a greater understanding of the needs and hopes of the North.

With Rev. Ruth’s advice I created a presentation that focused on the needs as they were relayed to me by Kingfisher Lake, with stress on childhood educational needs and nutrition.

The pilots listened to the presentation, they asked many questions and responded with enormous kindness and goodwill.

The Club volunteered to fly our stuff at no cost to us, to Kingfisher Lake. They also explained that since five pilots (four planes) had volunteered to fly, it would be prudent to gather more items as the planes were going regardless, might as well fill them.

Now I had a new mission, to fill four planes with much needed items. I spoke with Rev. Kitchekesick and she let me know that backpacks and school supplies were precious commodities and hard to find.

There are approximately 140 children from kindergarten to grade eight who all needed school supplies. A few generous members of the community donated money to help fill the planes and St. Marys ACW used their postage money to purchase infant formula.

With the additional monetary donations, we were able to fly 637 lbs of infant and child nutrition, food items, and various sundry goods to Kingfisher Lake.

3-2webThe items purchased and packed consisted of new back packs, warm socks, pens, pencils, paper, binders, dried fruits, powdered juices, lunch snacks, cereal, flour, sugar, pancake mix, powdered soups, peanut butter, children’s medicines, children’s clothing, men’s and ladies socks. An optometrist was also aboard to give free eye exams to identify any children who might need follow up eye care.

The Windsor Flying Club pilots, Fred Tonge, Neil Arnold, Russ Airey, Ron Lappos, Dave Kidd, Martin Reeb and William Crosby carefully planned the logistics for safest weather days and quickest route over several meetings for our flight north.

Everything had to be weighed again and labelled for dispersing among the planes. Finally, all was ready and our journey north began on Aug 31, 2016 in the early hours of the morning.

The Scout plane left just after dawn on Wednesday and made it as far as Geralton, Ontario. The plane was forced to stay the night as the town and area had a massive power failure. The scout plane was to go ahead and relay fuel and flight conditions back to us during our flights on Thursday morning. The rest of the planes left early on Sept 1 from Windsor and all planes arrived safely in Kingfisher by early Thursday afternoon after several stops for refueling.

Once safely on the ground we were greeted at the airport in Kingfisher by Rev. Kitchekesick and several community members and we began to unload the planes and load the trucks and travel into town and unload again at Mission House.

At Mission House we were treated with fresh baked Bannock and hot coffee, a most welcome treat.

Later in the day Bishop Lydia Mamakwa greeted us and then we all began exploring the community and discovered how vibrant and welcoming everyone was.

We went for dinner at the local restaurant and were treated to a wonderful meal and then continued to explore the area surrounding Kingfisher. We traveled to the lake and looked across to view Big Beaver House and the ice roads.

That evening most of the community came to Mission House and we were able meet and be greeted and enjoyed a pleasant evening of fellowship. Exhausted from a long day of flying and loading and unloading planes we settled in for the night at Mission House.

In the morning three of the planes had to leave early as they had commitments back home.

My pilot, Fred Tonge, was able to stay and Rev. Ruth took us on a great tour of the community. We went to the community store, the Band Office, St Matthews and were interviewed at the Radio station for Radio North.

At the Band Office we were able to view the new plaque commemorating the establishment of Mishamikoweesh, which was being commemorated that Sunday at Big Beaver House.

We then went for a tour of the school and met the principal and the teachers who were preparing the classrooms for the return to school.

We went to the airport with Rev. Ruth and Bishop Lydia and greeted Archbishop David Ashdown who had arrived at Kingfisher Lake for a visit, a fishing tournament and most importantly for the commemoration.

Later Friday afternoon we left for our long flight home, content that we had not just put names to faces but had developed new friendships.

Our visit to Kingfisher Lake was both humbling and enlightening as the kindness and warmth we received was a gift to cherish. We have formed a group which we have named Operation Point North and hope to make this a bigger and better venture each year. With the ongoing assistance from the Windsor Flying Club and the support of the Deanery of Essex and the additional help of a few local groups and community members, we are already planning for next year’s trip.

Ruth Kivinen is Refugee Coordinator at St. Mary’s and a longtime member of ACW.