With a Goal of Happy Children 2020 Toys for the North Overcame COVID-19 Challenges

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The light dusting of snow gets airborne in Pikangikum as the North Star Air Basler BT-67 lands.
The light dusting of snow gets airborne in Pikangikum as the North Star Air Basler BT-67 lands.

Thunder Bay / Pikangikum – Toys for the North provides Christmas cheer for young and old across Northern Ontario. In 2020, a year in which many of the events have been cancelled due to COVID-19, the decision to keep the Toys for the North campaign going was made.

The toys arrived in Thunder Bay destined for Northern communities onboard a Canadian Forces CF-18 Hercules. This massive aircraft with a cargo of toys weighing 9000 pounds arrived in Thunder Bay last week.

On Saturday, December 12, 2020, the toys continued on their journey to the children.

North Star Air, one of the key sponsors of this annual event delivered a batch of toys to the community of Pikangikum. A small, and very COVID-19 aware crew including Santa Claus travelled from Thunder Bay to do a social-distanced delivery to the community.

On Saturday, leaving Thunder Bay under clear skies, the flight continued to Pikangikum. The weather in the community offered a fairly low ceiling, and the trees were covered in a beautiful coating of fresh fallen snow.

As the North Star Air Pilatus “Blackfly 704” landed, we were followed by several other cargo deliveries before the big North Star Air Basler BT-17 with nine pallets of toys landed.

“In the next few days, months of planning will be coming to a close, and it’s the most rewarding part”, says Jeff Stout, COO and President of North Star Air. “This year posed so many challenges due to the pandemic. We must congratulate everyone involved that made this happen with the utmost of community safety in mind.”

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the Canadian Toy Association, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Royal Canadian Air Force and Thomson Terminals works to provide children’s toys to families in some of Canada’s most remote regions who cannot access or often afford children’s toys during the holiday season, including communities in Northwestern Ontario. “Double the amount of donated new toys were received this year off the Hercules last week. We were so glad to see the surplus as the need is much greater this year,” adds RCMP Cpl. Stacy Morton.

Over 2,500 toys were received through the Toys for the North campaign. “The community request for toys quadrupled this year, and with good reason,” says Karen Matson, Director of Marketing & Community Relations at North Star Air, “Residents weren’t traveling out of their communities to do their Christmas shopping. We’re currently working on the distribution through our flight network to seven more communities in the coming days to ensure pre-Christmas delivery.”

The flight from Canadian Forces Base to Thunder Bay, arrived and the crew from North Star Air, Gardewine, the RCMP got the toys unloaded, and they were transported to the warehouse for sorting to be then shipped out to communities across Northern Ontario.

Once the toys were delivered to Thunder Bay via the Hercules, they were then transported to the local Gardewine warehouse where volunteers sorted them by age, by community.

They were then transported via Gardewine to North Star Air bases in Red Lake and Pickle Lake, Ontario to be delivered to the recipient communities. This year eight communities are on Santa’s list to receive toys, books and winter wear through the annual “giving” campaign.

Receiving communities for the 2020 Toys for the North are Pikangikum, North Spirit Lake, Muskrat Dam, Bearskin Lake, Marten Falls, Keewaywin, McDowell Lake and Fort Severn First Nations.

North Star Air along with the RCMP and Retired RCMP, including ISC Ontario Region’s own Normand Roy with encouragement and support from RDG Anne Scotton and Director GIAGR Diane Bain, worked out the logistics of the program for this year.

“This year was certainly different in how we executed the campaign. Normally we travel into the community to enjoy a community feast and celebrate with the community members as Santa hands out the gifts to the children. But, of course, due to the pandemic all that changed. It’s not an easy task, but worth it knowing we put smiles on the children’s faces on Christmas morning.” offers Roy.

In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone stepped up to ensure the success of this years’ Toys for the North campaign while keeping safety at the forefront. Thank you also to Frontier College Thunder Bay for their donation of 200 hard cover and paperback books again this year that were also included with the toy delivery. Winter snowsuits were again donated by Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory snowsuit drive in southern Ontario. Their second year of participation helped provide over two dozen snowsuits and teen care packages for youth in remote locations. “We thank and congratulate everyone involved in this years Toys for the North campaign” says Matson. “We look forward to next year’s campaign when we can celebrate alongside our partners and our Northern neighbours.”

North Star Air is in it’s sixth year of partnership with the “O” Division Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) ‘Toys for the North’ charitable drive. The initiative has evolved over the years to include a national network of RCMP, law enforcement, corporate and external partners who collectively contribute to the success of delivering new toys and more to children in remote Northern Ontario communities.