Buses of donated sports equipment sent to Tataskweyak Cree Nation by the Manitoba Aboriginal Sports and Recreation Council.
Mel Whitesell has seen how lives can be changed when sports equipment falls into the hands of Aboriginal children in Manitoba.
“For us it’s collecting equipment, but for them it’s something that can change their world,” said Whitesell, executive director of the Manitoba Aboriginal Sports and Recreation Council.
MASRC is a not-for-profit organization that strives to improve the health and well-being of Manitoba’s Aboriginal population through sports and recreation, and by providing Aboriginal children and youth with the opportunity to participate to sports and physical activity in Winnipeg and in communities across the province.
“We’re trying to ensure everyone in Manitoba and all Indigenous peoples, including people in remote communities, have some access to sports and recreation,” Whitesell said. “It helps break down a lot of the barriers when we can donate equipment to kids and communities who want to play sports, but often can’t afford the equipment that comes with it.”
According to Whitesell, MASRC runs what it says is a “massive” warehouse operation on Higgins Avenue in Winnipeg, where they collect and distribute used and donated sports equipment to children, youth and Indigenous communities across the province. , and she estimates they donate like up to $1 million in sports equipment every year.
“With hockey alone, we give out about 500 sets of hockey gear every year, so that’s huge,” she said.
“The warehouse is only part of it, but it’s a huge part because a lot of kids can’t afford it in remote communities and here in the city, and with remote communities , we find ways to bring it directly to them, so even with fly-in communities, we get them what they need.
Last week, the organization donated a school bus and two vans filled with sports and recreational equipment to the Tataskweyak Cree Nation, a community of approximately 2,100 people located 143 kilometers northeast of Thompson.
In a recent Facebook post, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs thanked MASRC for the donation and posted images of a school bus loaded with equipment that drove to TCN.
“It gives people the opportunity, wherever they are, to be healthy first,” Whitesell said. “And right now people are struggling because the kids haven’t left the house for a long time because of COVID, so there’s an opportunity again to get out there, get some sport and be active, and in some cases to find a passion and excel.
According to Whitesell, they sometimes receive donations after hockey seasons end of entire hockey bags full of equipment and they collect everything from hockey equipment to baseball bats, basketballs, nets, golf clubs and anything that can be used for sports and recreation. .
“As long as it’s not broken, we’re happy to get it and get it into the hands of the kids,” she said.
She said they recently donated hockey equipment so girls in Split Lake in northern Manitoba can start playing hockey, and they’ve seen girls from the community participate and enjoy organized hockey for the first time.
“We flew up there, and the girls finally got to play hockey for the first time, and the girls were just beaming,” Whitesell said.
“It’s the little things that make it so fulfilling, and we know it can change people’s lives.”
MASRC currently accepts sports equipment at several locations around the city, including MASRC Headquarters at 145 Pacific Avenue, as well as the Gateway Recreation Centre, Play it Again Sports Winnipeg North, Allard Arena, River Heights Community Center and Canlan Ice Sports.
More information on where and how to donate to MASRC can be found by visiting masrc.com/warehouse-equipment.
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.