Brandon-dwelling First Nations and Inuit elders who are finding it tough to procure groceries can now get some help, thanks to a partnership between the Brandon Friendship Centre and the Manitoba Metis Federation.
"The reason we gave the Friendship Centre $25,000 is that years ago we signed a memorandum of understanding that we would try to support each other," said Leah LaPlante, vice-president of the federation’s southwest region.
She added that many members of the federation caucus are past leaders in the friendship centre movement. In Brandon, the two organizations have close ties.
The federation has been sending out food hampers to Métis elders for about a month, but LaPlante said they’d been getting calls from off-reserve First Nations folks looking for help with groceries.
"That’s when we decided we would take proposals from friendship centres," LaPlante said, adding the arrangement helps on the manpower end of things, as well, because the federation staff have been very busy.
LaPlante said she has helped non-Métis before the partnership was put in place, though.
"No one wants to see an elder go hungry."
Jason Gobeil, vice-president of the Brandon Friendship Centre, said the elders hamper support program launches this week. Hampers will be available for those in need who are 55 years of age and older.
"We know how much pressure has been put on our local food banks over the last couple of weeks, especially with those really struggling with lack of jobs or being laid off and being put in the position of not knowing how you’re going to stretch your penny," Gobeil said.
"Especially in this area, when it comes to our elders in the community, the Brandon Friendship Centre wanted to be supportive."
From that $25,000, $7,500 went to the Brandon Bear Clan, which has accelerated their street patrols from twice a week to daily.
Meanwhile, United Way Brandon donated $5,000 to put toward the elders food hamper program, which Gobeil said he is grateful for.
Approximately 60 hampers will be available on a regular basis and will contain enough food to stretch out a couple of weeks. Cleaning supplies will be included, as well, to keep homes wiped down.
"We know there’s so much more of a need in the urban centres when it comes to the Indigenous population, especially First Nations individuals living off-reserve who can’t access the support through their bands. We know it’s been a struggle for a lot of people," Gobeil said.
The Brandon Friendship Centre may yet receive funding from the National Association of Friendship Centres, which learned last week it would receive $3.75 million for the 107 friendship centres in Canada.
"We know that’s still not enough to make things happen for every centre, but it is a start. We’re doing what we can in this time of response to COVID-19," Gobeil said.
"It’s hard to say what amount of that $3.75 (million) will be trickled down through Brandon, and how long of a timeline. We’re working on those plans right now. We’re hoping this hamper program will get us over at least the next six to eight weeks while we’re planning for a longer outreach for support services."
The Manitoba Metis Federation Southwest Region will continue to provide hampers for Métis elders. They’ve also expanded to single-parent families and others in need.
"Elders seem calmer than the other generations are," LaPlante said about morale.
The federation keeps in touch with elders — they were among the first people to be contacted to ensure their health and safety.
"A lot of them, when we call, say, ‘No thank you, dear. We’re doing all right right now, but if we’re not, we know where to find you.’ It’s really quite endearing. Then there are some who really are struggling because there are those who don’t have much of an income," LaPlante said.
"It’s been quite enjoyable as a vice-president. Quite often I don’t get to have that one-on-one. It fills your heart with joy to know that you’re helping someone. It’s heavy on the heart when you hear some stories, but it’s uplifting when you’re actually talking to people. We’re making a difference, I hope, in their lives."
First Nations or Inuit elders living in Brandon who need to register for the food hamper program can contact Liz Cook by phoning the Brandon Friendship Centre or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
» Michele LeTourneau covers Indigenous matters for The Brandon Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.
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