Skip to content

St. Albert student Santas distribute 600 gifts to NWT students

“72 hours of pure joy,” says principal
STUDENT SANTAS — Outreach High students Cole Garritty (centre, with hat) and Jeric Macdonald (right of Garritty) distribute gift boxes to a Grade 1 class in Betchoko, NWT. The students distributed some 600 gift boxes to NWT residents from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3 as a charitable initiative. JOANN BLACHFORD/Photo

Two St. Albert student Santas are back in town this week after handing out some 600 gifts to students in Canada’s north.

Outreach High students Cole Garritty and Jeric Macdonald spoke to the Gazette Dec. 5 about the results of the 2023 Northwest Territories Kindness Project. The initiative saw them rally St. Albert residents in late October/early November to fill 600 boxes with gifts to distribute to students, seniors, and young mothers in the Northwest Territories. T8N 100 Men, the Rotary Club of St. Albert, and various businesses provided financial support.

Macdonald, Garritty, and the rest of the project team flew north on Nov. 29 and returned Dec. 3 having distributed the boxes to residents of Behchokǫ̀, Sachs Harbour, Tuktoyaktuk, and Yellowknife.

“It was awesome just seeing how happy they were because we knew we did something good for them and it made their day,” Macdonald said.

As Outreach principal and team member JoAnn Blachford put it, “It was 72 hours of pure joy.”

Northern exposure

The team transported the boxes north with the help of Buffalo Air Express (which provided free shipping to Yellowknife), Canada Post, and the Canadian military, said team member and retired St. Albert constable Geoff McKay, who personally hauled several truckloads of the gifts to Behchokǫ̀. About 22 of the boxes were mailed to Sachs Harbour, with the rest distributed by team members in person.

Garritty said Behchokǫ̀ is a First Nations community of about 1,700 with one store, one gas station, and one restaurant, the latter of which looks like a jail’s cafeteria.

“There’s no identical houses there,” he noted, with every house having a different colour, and plenty of dogs and snowmobiles in the streets.

“The ravens are huge there.”

Garritty said the team saw many burned trees and smouldering fires under the snow on the way to Behchokǫ̀ — the result of this year’s wildfires, which forced the community’s evacuation. Some students they spoke with said they had lost homes to the fire.

Blachford said Garritty and Macdonald were swarmed by kids at the Behchokǫ̀ school as they handed out the boxes. Many ran home to show their gifts to their siblings during lunch break, which encouraged more students to show up the school that afternoon. (It was very cold that day, so many kids had stayed home.)

Garritty said he made sure that one kid wearing a Spider-Man shirt got a Spider-Man-themed box.

“He opened it up and just went wild,” he recalled.

Macdonald and Garritty said they were surprised when one Tuktoyaktuk student gifted them with two necklaces upon receiving his box.

“I was absolutely dumbfounded,” Garritty said, noting that it would not have been cheap for the student to have had those necklaces brought north.

Garritty said the team learned much about the Northwest Territories from local museums and residents. They got to drive a dog sled, ride in a plane’s cockpit, and walk on the frozen Arctic Ocean.

“All you could see was literally nothing,” Macdonald said of the latter, with nothing but ice all around.

Garritty said he hopes to continue this project next year, but might narrow it down to just one community to better customize the boxes.

Garrity and the team thanked St. Albert residents, T8N 100 Men, Rotary, the RCMP, the military, and Buffalo Air for their support.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
Read more


push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks