At 10 a.m. Saturday morning, the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre was brimming with games, books and stuffed animals.
By 3 p.m. the room was nearly empty.
Michael Fatt has been collecting bottles and cans since October. He’s spent the last week filling shopping carts with toys bought from the $6,000 of proceeds.
“I’m just happy to see it go,” Fatt said of the toys.
Throughout Saturday, Yellowknifers streamed through Tom Eagle Hall to choose from hundreds of options to provide Christmas gifts for loved ones, expressing their gratitude all the while.
It’s “satisfying,” Fatt said, “knowing it’s going to reach a kid that really needs it.”
Noeline Villebrun, a volunteer gift wrapper at the event, said the Christmas toy drive is “in the Dene spirit of giving.”
“It’s our traditional value of helping, giving and kindness. We’re just following our values and our teachings,” she said.
Villebrun also noted there is more “dignity and pride” in getting to choose a gift rather than having to accept what’s given to you.
The event was put on in association with Crazy Indians Brotherhood (CIB) – a group dedicated to supporting former criminals transition to a better life.
Jay Holt started the Yellowknife chapter in early 2019. He said it’s been a slow build since then but that the group wants to attract the right people. So far Holt and Fatt are two thirds of the brotherhood along with Roger Kunuk, who earned his membership patches Saturday.
CIB aims to guide their members through connecting with the community. While some may find the name to be controversial, Holt said it’s a way of “taking something negative and trying to make it more of a positive.”
Holt points to Fatt’s bottle drive as a good example of what it’s like to become a member.
“We’re just a group trying to do better for ourselves and our community,” Fatt said.
By the end of the day on Saturday, only one table of toys was left. They remaining toys will be flown, free of charge, to Whati, Lutselk’e, Fort Rae, and Edzo and distributed to those in need.
Holt and Fatt agree the event has been such a success in its first year that they plan on bringing it back again for the 2021 holiday season.
In the meantime, Fatt’s account for the bottle depot will remain open for anyone who wishes to continue donating. Holt explains the money raised will continue to go back into the community for events like “Feed the People” meal programs.
“I want to thank Yellowknife for giving,” Fatt said. “It’s obviously a very nice thing that kids who don’t normally get gifts will get them.”