A group of five moms are sharing the love of Christ by running a toy drive for children in remote Northern communities this Christmas.
"People don't get what's happening in our own province. They don't understand the third-world living conditions up there," says one of the moms in the group.
Sariviea Ellsworth is one of the leaders for the project they call North of the 55th Toy Drive 2020. The other women are Tiffany Price, Joelinn Reid, Rikki Linklater, and Alyssa Anderson, from Thompson, Man.
"I feel like it's my job to share with people that this is a reality. Our advocacy efforts have only begun. As we continue to do this we simply see the need even more," says Ellsworth.
While the group of five moms only started this Facebook page on November 21, they've already raised $14,500 for the Toy Drive, with $3,200 more to reach their goal.
Under 30-years-old, Ellsworth and her husband have six children with three of their own and three they foster.
"I know that the [children in these communities] don't know what it's like to buy a new toy. When they come to live with us and go to a store for the first time, they don't know what to do. They don't know that tags come on clothing and that you have to take them off. They've never seen what new looks like," she says.
Hitting their target means that 1,068 kids will receive a gift this Christmas.
"I was in Walmart the day they announced the lockdown and I went and grabbed all the last minute gifts I needed. This lady just started crying. She said 'what are people going to do because child tax is the following day, and they normally get gifts with that'?"
This conversation sparked something in Ellsworth. She phoned her mother and shared what was happening. Both women started to pray.
The next morning Ellsworth's friend called her saying that she and her mother were praying about the situation and that something must be done.
"It's been years of knowing we need to do something and then this code red being the final push of, okay, someone's got to do something now," she says and that's how the toy drive came to be.
As Ellsworth has worked in multiple communities, some of them people can only reach by plane, she knew which ones to pick.
"We chose these communities based on a need. The need in the North is so huge. I've been a foster parent for ten years and I'm a social work student. We know what communities have resources and what communities don't."
The communities receiving the toys are Leaf Rapids, Lynn Lake, Shamattawa, God's Lake Narrows, and Split Lake.
"We narrowed it down based on location, isolation, and lack of resources," says Ellsworth.
Most of these communities don't even have internet access and therefore many people living there don't have cell phones either.
The ages of children who can be registered for the toy drive range from the youngest baby to teenagers.
"[Those families] are actually being registered through the Health Centre or Band Office and they're contacting us. Three communities sent us a huge list of all their band members and that's how we've been registering them."
Many families also don't have a credit card and shipping costs to fly anything to Northern Manitoba are very high. This means that with the lockdown, most families in this region would have gone without this Christmas.
"Every child in Leaf Rapids, Shamattawa, and Lynn Lake are getting a gift from us. It's a huge need and we're just excited to be able to do this," says Ellsworth.
The women are taking donations for the Toy Drive up until December 11, and any money they receive above their goal will go towards toys for children in Thompson.
"I know that God's working in the North and He has a plan, but the plan isn't what's going on right now. It's so broken up here. It's enough. If we can show a little bit of Christ's love, even just on Christmas morning, that will be enough to open the hearts," says Ellsworth.
"The stories are heart-wrenching. The addiction, the poverty, the hate, the hurt, suicide and the violence. It's horrific. If we can bring a smile to a face one day of the year? That's enough for me for now."