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Students fill shoeboxes with love

The I Love First Peoples' shoebox campaign sends individual boxes with school supplies, stuffed animals, toys and winter accessories to remote Northern communities.
Shoebox campaign
From left, St. Martin School students Nolan Mintenko, Karmen Olson, Ethan Fabiano and Rihannon Cockerell gather items for the I Love First Peoples' shoebox campaign on Monday. (Matt Vis,

THUNDER BAY – A Grade 6 class at St. Martin School is leading the way to ensure their peers in remote Northern communities can have essential items that many children have the luxury of taking for granted.

The class has partnered with I Love First Peoples’ shoebox campaign, which aims to gather school supplies, stuffed animals, toys and winter wear like hats and gloves to be sent in the individual boxes to Indigenous communities in need.

“I think it’s important because other people need this stuff,” 11-year-old Phoenix Mapeso said. “It actually makes me feel bad that people in Thunder Bay are taking this stuff for granted and it makes me feel pretty bad because other people don’t have this stuff.”

The class has spent about two weeks organizing the project, which has included developing age-specific lists of items, making posters and contacting local businesses for support.

Teacher Lisa Auger said it has largely been a student-driven initiative.

“We started looking into residential school systems and northern communities and my kids really wanted to know what they could do to help. It was great for them learning about it and learning about our history but they wanted to know now what they can do,” Auger said.

“It’s honestly incredible to me. The fact that as a Grade 6 class they’re not just saying ‘well, that’s too bad,’ they’re saying ‘what can we do.’ It’s more meaningful than me telling them ‘you need to do this.’”

Bruce Shisheesh, former chief of Attawapiskatt First Nation, said it’s significant that children are stepping forward to help other children.

“It brings a strong message. It’s about reconciliation, that we want to reconcile. It promotes love, that we want to accept one another and be friends or building bridges,” Shisheesh said. “The kids are sending a strong message to our First Nations children.”

What might seem like small gestures makes a big difference for the children in the northern communities, Shisheesh added.

“I could see them smiling that it came from another kid down south,” Shisheesh said. “This brings hope to our Indigenous people.”

Donated items or packed shoeboxes can be dropped off locally at the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board office, Half-Way Motors Power Sports, Kenworth and Nor-Shore Self Storage until Nov. 30. More information can be found on the I Love First Peoples website or the Thunder Bay chapter’s Facebook page.