Residents help bring thrift store to island
By Jennifer Bowman
Four boys show off their new blazers after helping unload two tons of clothing donated to Christian Island from Muskoka Lakes residents.
November 15, 2012
A 27-year dream to have a thrift store on Christian Island came true when Muskoka Lakes residents donated two tons of clothing on Nov. 2.
Teresa Burnett-Cole, reverend of the Christian Island United Church, said the idea of a thrift store had been tossed around for awhile, but they didn’t have anywhere to put it.
The church fundraised and loaned some money from the national church to renovate the church’s basement and clothing donations began to arrive.
“The closest thrift shop is in Midland, which is a half an hour boat ride, then a half an hour drive,” she said.
“It’s one thing if you have a vehicle, it becomes almost impossible if you don’t, and we have a number of people on the island who don’t.”
The Bala and Port Carling United churches began collecting clothing for Christian Island residents at the beginning of October after learning about another community that had done something similar. Susan Daglish and her husband Ted gathered the clothing at their home as Muskoka Lakes residents were ignited to action.
Daglish said they collected so much clothing it looked like it could last five years.
“We had our cars outside for the last two weeks because there just wasn’t any room in the garage anymore,” Daglish said.
Originally she thought they’d be able to take everything up in their truck, but on Friday, Nov. 2, a truck with a 10-foot enclosed trailer, a jeep hauling an 8-foot enclosed trailer, and a van headed to Christian Island.
The island is home to 700 Ojibwa people and has an 85 per cent unemployment rate. Employment is focused on tourism and seasonal jobs. It was settled hundreds of years ago when Christian converts fled to the island while Saint Marie was under attack and about to be abandoned.
Burnett-Cole said they have probably received about 300 green garbage bags of clothing from the surrounding areas since she first asked for them in September. She estimates about 180 of them have been distributed to families in need.
“Just this weekend there was a fire where a single mom with four kids, their house burned to the ground, and literally we outfitted them,” she said.
While on the island, Daglish and the six other volunteers toured the only school on the island, Christian Island Elementary School, where they saw four boys who had already received some of the clothing for helping unload the vehicles. Daglish remembers the four boys in their green, blue, red and white dress jackets with rolled up their sleeves to “achieve a Don Johnson Miami Vice look-alike persona.”
The school has 104 students from kindergarten to Grade 8, and funds are stretched between the many demands of a school.
Burnett-Cole said a recent $1,200 donation from a school in Erin Mills will go toward a new set of science textbooks. They only had one textbook, she said.
Daglish said their newest science textbooks are 20 years old.
“We went through the school library, and the library was just pitiful,” Daglish said.
She’s hoping to collect some books to take up in the spring.
Angela Johnson, of Christian Island Elementary School, said the library has a lot of little fundraisers as well as book fairs to help replenish the book supply.
“It’s a rather small library, so it’s not too bad. It’s definitely getting better as far as resources and the up-to-date and current materials that they get,” she said.
One of the things she finds particularly helpful is donations of supplies such as pencils and paper for the students.
Daglish said one of the teachers noticed a change in the community after they heard someone was coming with clothing. The islanders began to care more about each other because someone cared for them, the teacher said. The trip was also inspirational for the volunteers.
Daglish compared being at the school to the warmth and camaraderie felt at a family reunion.
“It’s so warm. The teachers still give the kids a hug if they need it. It’s just such a feeling of we haven’t got much, but we’re all in this together and we’re going to get there,” she said.
Burnett-Cole said the community is creative, resourceful and there to help each other despite the difficult issues they face.
“There’s a lot of tough social stuff, but they manage to look out for each other,” she said.
Daglish is now looking for skates to take up before winter sets in. One of the local teams donated a whole set of hockey shirts and socks, “but when we went up there they said there were about two or three kids on the island who had skates,” Daglish said.
Home Hardware store in Midland promised to sharpen every pair of donated skates for free.
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