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Students rally gifts for Nunavut

250 boxes headed to Arnaqjuaq School
FILL A BOX — Outreach Grade 10 student Cole Garritty shows off some of the full and empty gift boxes being gathered at Lois E. Hole Elementary on Nov. 25, 2022. Garritty has rallied students and parents at four St. Albert schools to try and get 250 boxes of necessities to students in Sanirajak, Nunavut, by Christmas. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

A St. Albert student is rallying residents to mail some Christmas cheer to hundreds of kids in Nunavut.

St. Albert Outreach High School Grade 10 student Cole Garritty has rallied students and parents at several St. Albert schools to mail hundreds of boxes of basic necessities to students in Sanirajak, Nunavut — a community roughly 2,366 km northeast of St. Albert.

Garritty said he was inspired to assemble these gift boxes by Geoff McKay, a retired/reserve constable with the St. Albert RCMP who organized a similar gift drive back in 2021.

“It started off as a special project for credits but it ended up turning into a lot more than that,” Garritty said.

McKay said he received a care package from his wife while in Nunavut and was so excited about it he wrote a post on Facebook about it. In it, he encouraged people to assemble gift boxes for kids which he would distribute at his next deployment in Sanirajak (also known as Hall Beach).

“I thought I’d get 10 or 20 boxes,” McKay said.

“When I arrived in Hall Beach, there were 250 boxes from all over Canada.”

Garritty said he started out running bake sales to raise money for the boxes back in November. Later, he recruited students and staff at the Outreach, Lois E. Hole, Hillgrove, and Sir Alexander Mackenzie schools to help.

Garritty said he and his team hoped to fill some 250 medium-sized Canada Post shipping boxes — enough for every student at the Arnaqjuaq School in Sanirajak — with gifts and necessities by Dec. 2. They had around 200 boxes filled as of Nov. 25.

“The kids up there have nothing,” Garritty said, and St. Albert has the wealth and connections needed to help."

Garritty said donors could fill a box for either a generic girl or boy or a specific student at the school. Any excess donations would go to St. Albert charities.

Gifts going north

Sanirajak is a mostly Inuit community of about 750 people and is the oldest known permanently inhabited community north of the Arctic Circle, reports Travel Nunavut. It is known for its diverse wildlife, which includes seals, whales, and huge flocks of migratory birds. The average temperature there in December is -28 C.

“Life there, it’s a whole different world,” Garritty said of Sanirajak — residents get around on Ski-Doos rather than cars, and build their homes on stilts due to polar bears.

McKay said there weren’t many jobs in Sanirajak, which was small enough to fit within St. Albert’s Heritage Lakes neighbourhood. Prices at the community’s store were steep, as everything had to be flown or floated in.

“A 2 L bottle of pop is $15,” McKay said, and a gallon of bleach was close to $60.

Garritty said the wish lists the team had received from students at the Arnaqjuaq School were for basics such as clothes and Kraft Dinner — all items St. Albert residents take for granted.

“It’s 10 times colder up there than it gets here, and they don’t even get winter coats.”

Outreach principal JoAnn Blachford said the team hoped to get the gift boxes to Sanirajak by Christmas, with a separate shipment of winter coats and boots to follow in January.

Blachford said this project has helped students learn more about Canada’s north, which was a part of the elementary school curriculum, and give back to their community.

“That’s a part of Christmas and the whole holiday season — do things for other people to try and make them happy,” she said.

Questions on the box campaign should go to Blachford at [email protected] or 780-458-0839.

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.
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