Once a year in January St. John’s ACW packs boxes of new and gently used clothing and other needed items to be shipped to Kenora in the Diocese of Keewatin. The town of Keewatin, where the diocesan office is located, is about 5 miles west of Kenora on the Trans-Canada Highway. The Diocese includes 45 parishes in the central region of Canada straddling the border of the provinces of Manitoba and Ontario and comprising over 900,000 sq kilometres. There are parishes in Northern and Central Manitoba and parishes in Northwestern Ontario from Kenora to Fort Severn which sits on the Hudson Bay and is the most Northern Community in the province of Ontario. Like many northern towns, it was a company town and when the mills closed there was a lot of hardship and unemployment. There are 3 Indian reservations close to the town and numerous Indian settlements scattered throughout the diocese; many are only accessible by Air or on the winter ice roads.
Bales have always been a part of ACW outreach and prior to that the Women’s Auxiliary (W.A.) minutes from the 1940’s record that St. John’s was sending parcels to various Native villages across the country throughout the year. The cost of the merchandise was not very much by to-days standards.
By the 1970’s-1980’s several churches were getting together from the Deanery to pack and send the Bale north. This continued in this area until early in the 21st Century. By this time the K-W churches were sending their donations to the Diocese of Keewatin in northern Ontario and eastern Manitoba. The goods were being sent north through Canada Post. The cost for this was very high.
About 7 years ago we were told that the distribution centre in Keewatin could no longer accept our donations, due we believe to lack of volunteers. At that time St. John’s sent a cash donation to the diocese. A year later we were told that donations of clothing would once again be accepted. St. John’s ACW resumed sending the Bale north.
The merchandise we send is used to supply The Closet which is run like our Clothes Closet. People come and shop and pay a small price for what they purchase. Anyone who can’t pay is given what they need. A couple in the town runs an outreach programme from their garage. They work closely with the people at the Closet and in the winter they use their truck to take goods to some of the outlying villages on the winter roads. Money earned at the Closet is used for further outreach in the diocese and the gas for the truck is paid for in this way.
Many of the things we send would not be available to the people because there are few shops and for some of them, travel to another town is not possible because of the cost. The ladies are always very excited to receive wool and fabric as well as clothing and household goods for this reason. At this time St. John’s ACW spends $500 for new clothing to be included in our shipment. We work together with St. Columba’s and All Saint’s on this project.
Many churches are still sending the bale but many can no longer do it, partly due to aging congregations, a drop in receipts, cost of postage. We were fortunate to have McKinnon Transport drive it to Keewatin for us; however, since they have re-structured and can no longer deliver it, Another company has been shipping it for us. These companies have done it on their regular shipments north with no charge to us, for which we are deeply grateful.