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Two RCMP officers in red serge stand in a detachment cell lined with boxes full of donated items.

Northern communities receiving an extra dose of cheer as part of Adopt a Village initiative

In 2020, Cst. Tom Lemay (left) and Cst. Scott Thomas (right) helped distribute donated goods throughout Fort McPherson, N.W.T. Credit: RCMP


Residents of Kinngait, Nunavut are getting an extra dose of cheer this holiday season.

RCMP employees are delivering thousands of items including household necessities, sports equipment and toys to the community.

The donated items will be a big help for Elders and families in the Inuit hamlet of nearly 1,500 people off the southwestern tip of Baffin Island, where residents face high prices for household necessities like toothpaste, diapers and cleaning supplies.

"I just wanted to help people," says Cst. Tom Lemay, who was behind the first Adopt a Village initiative when he worked in the Northwest Territories in 2020. "In Fort McPherson, people always give and give and don't expect anything in return."

Lemay adds that he wanted to support the community through the holiday season to show his appreciation for their generosity and hospitality.

An idea is born

With an idea brimming, he spoke with his mother, Luisa Russo-Lemay, who worked at RCMP National Headquarters (NHQ) in Ottawa. Together, they proposed a plan to collect donations and send them north. And just like that, with the support of colleagues, the Adopt a Village initiative was born.

That first year, more than 2,200 kilograms of items were delivered to Fort McPherson helping boost spirits during the short, cold winter days. RCMP officers at the detachment worked with several community partners to distribute items throughout the community.

"It blew up in the best way possible. We couldn't have predicted the amount of support we had," says Russo-Lemay, who was an RCMP officer before retiring as a Chief Superintendent in 2016 and joining NHQ as a public servant.

Following the 2020 Adopt a Village campaign in Fort McPherson, C/Supt Jamie Zettler, the Commanding Officer in the Northwest Territories, shared an email he received from the Grand Chief of the Gwich'in Tribal Council in which the Chief stated that "it is great to see the RCMP taking a leadership role in our community through a culture of care."

Year two

Cst. Alison Morris, who's co-ordinating Adopt a Village in Ottawa this year, spoke with officers at the RCMP detachment, social services and community members in Kinngait, Nunavut to determine what's needed most. Self-care and household items, sports equipment, clothing such as winter jackets and tuques, DVDs and non-perishable food were identified.

"I want to help make a difference for the Elders and the families and the officers working there," says Morris. "Generosity started this and I want it to be a genuine project of giving."

This year, local RCMP veterans also got involved and collected a great amount of goods when staff at NHQ reached out to the Ottawa Division RCMP Veterans Association, who welcomed the opportunity to support the initiative.

Joanne Weedmark, director of recreation in Kinngait, says the donations will be met with smiles at the local youth centre, where sports equipment, video games and material for sewing and crafting projects can be hard to come by.

"The youth come here for a safe space and there will be more resources available to them," she says. "It's great for youth to know there's someone else out there thinking about them."

Formerly known as Cape Dorset, Kinngait is known for being home to a number of talented and internationally recognized carvers, illustrators and other artists.

Front-line connections

While the project is rooted in generosity and promoting the holiday spirit, it also allows RCMP officers in the community to engage with residents in a positive way that helps build trust and establish strong relationships.

"The initiative will help front-line officers build bridges with the community and help make the lives of people in Kinngait a little bit better," says Cst. Tyler Civico, acting detachment commander in Kinngait.

RCMP officers in Kinngait regularly stop by the Co-Op and Northern Store to chat with residents and can be spotted playing soccer and other sports with youth.

"To me there's no greater call than helping people and making their days a little brighter," says Civico. "Everything from pulling over and helping a kid with their bicycle or giving an Elder a drive home when they're carrying groceries goes a long way in building trust."

Civico also credits the Nunavut RCMP leadership's focus on building strong community relationships for making projects like Adopt a Village success.

"We really couldn't be doing this work without their support," says Civico.

The project has inspired others in the RCMP to do the same. This year, the RCMP in Ottawa launched it's own Adopt a Village project supporting the TthedzehK'edeli First Nation community in Jean Marie River, N.W.T. The 100-member community is in need of supplies after flooding damaged the school and most homes earlier this year.

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