About two weeks before Christmas, a call for help came from Daisy, a friend and respected member of the community of Mishkeegogamang, a reserve 2000 kilometers north west of Toronto. She told us that many of the 200 children who attend Missabay School in the growing community, needed mittens. Since the temperature up there that day was -27 F, the need was obvious.
As soon as the need was made known, initially via Facebook, the response was swift. People's hearts were touched by the need and bags of mittens and other donations began to be dropped off for the children.
The next thing was getting the items to the faraway community. Our friends Holly McCleary and Susan Stewart decided that they would drive the precious cargo themselves between Christmas and New Years. They set out early the Thursday morning after Christmas and made the distance in an unbelievably short length of time, driving in shifts through the night--2,000 kilometers north, arriving on Friday! Bags and bags of warm gloves, mittens, scarves and toques--and even 50 bright red, warm blankets made it safely to Mish and were distributed to all who needed them.
I thought of the brave travelers as I watched snowflakes fall relentless past my window, and in my mind's eye went back, past the flaming fire of autumn's falling leaves, to the sultry heat of an August evening in Mish. It was the evening of the great feast at the community centre. Our little group had prepared baked potatoes with butter, boiled sweet corn, and, helped by Gordie, a community elder, barbecued smokie sausages for the community. As the smoke rose and the barbecue sizzled, the tantalizing aroma of the sausage filled the air. We expected at least a hundred people.
Inside, on long tables in the gym, we unpacked boxes of new and gently used clothing. Every item had been carefully sorted by volunteers at our churches in the south and packaged by age and sex, while making sure that everything was of good quality and in good repair.
People were starting to arrive and look through the items, selecting what they needed. A woman held up a dress that shimmered in the light, and said to her friend, "Look at this!"
Holly joined me, but her eyes quickly filled with tears. Overwhelmed at the need, she slipped away as quickly as she had come--it was too much for her big and tender heart to watch.
A small boy on his own appeared at my side by a table of winter items. There, a pair of uniquely designed mittens caught his eye. He picked them up and said softly as he examined them, "I like these mittens."
"If you like them take them," I said.
But he put them gently back on the table and said, "Somebody else might need them more."
"Well, come back later," I said, "Maybe they'll still be here--you never know!"
Later, after the corn, potatoes and smokies had all been placed into the stream of waiting hands, and a great treasure--the leftovers--sent home with grateful people, I went back into the gym to help clean up the boxes and few items left.
There I met the little boy again. "I wonder if those mittens are still there, " he said.
Together, hand in hand, we went back to the table, but it was now empty. I wondered if I should have put them on one side without him knowing, but that had not felt like the right thing to do.
The little boy simply accepted that they weren't there--someone else had needed them more, but he had three brand-new t-shirts slung over his shoulder.
"Would you like me to fold your t-shirts?" I asked, and he nodded.
I handed them back to him with love tucked into every fold.
"You should have brought bags you know," he said, his observation breaking the tension in my heart.
"You are right!" I said, with a laugh.