First Nations people living in the Chilcotin are some of the poorest in B.C.
“All you have to do is take a drive out to the Chilcotin to see how poor people are,” says Sarah Jackman, Punky Lake Wilderness Camp Society executive director.
This Christmas many of the Chilcotin First Nations people living in poverty had a special treat from some not-so-secret Santas to make their Christmases a little brighter.
A beautiful collection of handmade wooden toys and other gifts arrived in Williams Lake early last week from several prisons around the Lower Mainland, where inmates have been working for several months to make the gifts especially for the Chilcotin people.
“We have tons!” said Jackman as the gifts were unloaded from the delivery truck early last week.
“Trucks and cars, trains, stuffed toys, rocking horses, rocking orcas, building blocks, little pull-along toys that are grasshoppers with moving legs! Very cool.”
The gifts also included hand-knitted blankets, hats, mittens, scarves and fabric teddy bears and sock monkeys.
Some of the extra special items in the collection included a raven rocking horse, orca rocking horse and Santa pinatas.
The majority of all the gifts were made by male inmates, including the sewn and knitted items, Jackman says.
More than 250 children, elders and family members were on the list to receive the gifts that were distributed on Friday afternoon at the Gibraltar Room following the annual general meeting of the Tsilhqot’in National Government and Punky Lake Wilderness Society.
The gifts were given away during the Punky Lake Wilderness Society’s annual Christmas open house that included a big buffet lunch and entertainment with magician Jesaja Class.
“We had a full house,” Jackman says. “Every seat was filled.”
Jackman says the distribution of gifts was chosen by draw for the first 75 items, then the rest of the people could chose what they needed.
The donations are part of the Work to Give project in several federal prisons in the Fraser Valley and were transported to Williams Lake at no cost by T-Lane Transportation out of Mission.
Jackman, as well as Toosey Chief Francis Laceese and retired educator Joan Gentles, said the project is a win-win for low income First Nations people and for the inmates who gain valuable skills that they can take into the workplace after completing their prison sentences.
“I think there is a great opportunity for the nation and the people who make the toys to help each other,” Laceese said.
Anna Kalelest, who is a single mom with a disability raising two young boys on her own was thrilled with the gifts she received and chose for delivery to a friend who also lives on a low income.
She got a peg board game with numbers and letters on it that will be helpful in teaching her older son about writing and numbers.
She also got a beautiful wooden car that she and her younger son can have fun painting together.
“I think it is awesome,” Kalelest said of the Work to Give program.
Kalelest says it is difficult raising children on a disability pension and she was only recently able to find a nice basement suite in Williams Lake after living for a while in a motel and another unsuitable location.
Her new suite has two bedrooms in a quiet, safe location with laundry facilities and a fireplace. “I have great landlords,” Kalelest says.
Earlier this year the Work to Give program also provided items such as beds, picnic tables, desks, and bookshelves for First Nations people living in the Chilcotin.
Jackman says the society helps the project by encouraging donations of lumber, paint, yarn and fabric for the work.
“We are extremely non-profit,” says Jackman who visits the prison inmates in the program every few months and brings them pictures and videos showing how much their gifts are appreciated.
She says the inmates are equally happy to see the gifts they have made appreciated.
People who would like to donate to Work to Give project can call her at 250-267-2510.