Irene Cherrett and Bernice Kaiser sit in a the big open space of the secondary community centre in The Village of Taunton Mills, surveying the evidence of months of work in the stacks of boxes lining the far wall near a lone Christmas tree. Gifts for 268 children are packed inside – knitted hats, scarves, slippers and mittens are tucked away alongside candies, toothbrushes and toothpaste. Modest gifts in a fast-paced world of iPads and video games, some might suggest, but nonetheless offered with love to children who will most certainly appreciate them.
A teacher from the Whitby area named Nikki Osborne who works at the small school in Deer Lake First Nation in northwestern Ontario visited Taunton Mills to share her experience with some of the residents, Irene explains. Nikki described how difficult it can be in the remote reserve to get basic supplies, and Irene decided to spearhead the gift-giving campaign. Most children in the school only have one pair of boots for the winter, for example, so when they arrive at school their feet are damp and cold. They’ll now have a pair of slippers to slide their feet into when they arrive at school after Christmas.
The village has been extremely generous, with residents offering to help make the gifts or provide cash donations to purchase others. In the past, the village has rallied to fill shoeboxes for children in other parts of the world and this year, Irene thought, “it’s about time we service our own children for a change, so that’s why I started.”
“Nikki told me when she came down to visit me that when the children see those hats, they’ll be thrilled,” Irene says. “She was literally in tears when we showed her the hats and mitts we had made.”
Bernice says her heart was warmed when her 12-year-old great grandson gave her $10 he’d saved to contribute to the cause. He’s also asked for money as Christmas gifts this year so he can give it to causes he feels are important. “This has taught him a lesson so it’s doing a lot of good,” Bernice says.
And for residents of Taunton Mills, they feel the warmth of the Christmas season in the act of kindness they’re offering a group of children they’ll never meet. Once they know the gifts have arrived safely, “we’ll be sublimely happy,” Irene says.