(Above) Lt Brandon Keeping (right), CO, Temiskaming CC, and Ed Wabie, a Salvationist and Indigenous resident of Timiskaming First Nation, take a break from delivering food and supplies in Notre-Dame-du-Nord, Que.

Temiskaming Shores is a small city about two hours north of North Bay, Ont. Last year, Lieutenants April and Brandon Keeping, corps officers at Temiskaming Community Church, contacted the Quebec Division to express interest in reaching out to a First Nations community just across the border in Quebec. Major Melisa Tardif, divisional commander, was excited to hear about the project and asked me to visit Temiskaming Shores to show support and learn more.

I discovered that Lieutenants April and Brandon are passionate about ministry, even if that ministry takes them across provincial and cultural borders. Once a month, the team packs up baskets of food to distribute to families from Timiskaming First Nation in Quebec. I asked Lieutenant Brandon to tell me more about the project and the impact it is having in the community.

Tell us a little about your ministry in Temiskaming Shores.

In addition to our small corps family, our community and family services consists of a regional food bank, emergency shelter provisions, utilities and emergency travel assistance, and emotional and spiritual care. We work hand in hand with several social service agencies, police and victim services and local schools. We provide assistance to 10 small municipalities throughout southern Timiskaming District. Along with four staff, we operate a thriving thrift store and regularly utilize it as a free resource for our neighbours in need of clothing, household supplies and winter gear.

Why did you decide to start a ministry to this new community?

Initially, we did not consider reaching out in Quebec due to pandemic restrictions. For many months, the provincial borders were locked down completely. It wasn’t until just after Christmas 2020 when we started getting phone calls from residents in Notre Dame-du-Nord and Timiskaming First Nation asking for assistance with food and resources.

What does this ministry look like?

After consulting with our area commander, we reached out to the Quebec Division to see how we could work together to walk alongside our Indigenous and provincial neighbours. After figuring out some of the logistics, we contacted the Timiskaming First Nation Health and Wellness Centre, which in turn consulted the band council, and they welcomed us with open arms. We made our first delivery to 10 families on September 1, 2021. In December and January, we served 55 families.

Samantha Carr, Lt Keeping and Karen Woods

Karen Woods, our long-time volunteer and corps sergeant-major, along with Samantha Carr, our office administrator, diligently take all the registrations and pack all of the supplies for each family. I load it all in our new (to us) emergency disaster services utility trailer and head 30 minutes east over the provincial border into Quebec. I’m met there by Ed Wabie, a Salvationist, Korean War veteran and Indigenous resident of Timiskaming First Nation. We begin deliveries to each of the families who have registered. After a couple of hours, we stop at Algonquin Variety for a hot coffee, trading stories of Ed’s service in the military and my service in policing.

What does it mean to you to reach out to this population?

Delivering 23 kilograms of food might seem like an insignificant offering, but it comes with a face-to-face encounter with a real person with a real story. Interacting at someone’s home brings a different level of connection than perhaps a normal meeting at a store or on a street corner. You gain a perspective on where they are coming from. Now that we have been out six times, relationships have been created. That’s what this is really all about.

What does this ministry mean to the community?

The response from our neighbours has been overwhelming. A conversation at the door, a smile and a heartfelt “thank you” is paving the way to positive relationships. Every interaction has been one of genuine thankfulness and appreciation. We’ve received positive feedback from the health unit.

Do you have plans for long-term support?

At this point in time, we have no plans to stop doing this. We are always in conversation with the case workers at the health unit and regularly check in with what the needs are and how we can do better.

Have you received help from the local community?

Karen Woods packs hampers for families from Timiskaming First Nation 

The Salvation Army serves more than just one community. New Liskeard is part of the city of Temiskaming Shores, and that city is part of a larger district. As the largest community in the region, we are the central hub for schools, health care, business and shopping. Residents of our region, as well as northern Quebec, are very generous with food and financial donations as well as their time.

What is your financial support for this ministry?

Apart from a small grant through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, we have not received any extra financial support to fulfil this much-needed ministry. Conversations have occurred; however, with the pandemic and other factors, finances are a challenge.

Our biggest challenge right now is a vehicle. We have an old program van that is too small and not capable of towing a trailer on the unplowed, snow-covered roads in the country. As a stop-gap measure, we have resorted to using our personal vehicle, which is equipped with 4x4 and lots of towing capacity.

How can The Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda support this initiative? What is the one best thing the Army can do for this community?

First, and always, we need prayer. The North is a challenging place to live, and thriving is not a reality for many. Add in the historical and present treatment of Indigenous children and families in our country, and this support is the bare minimum.

Reconciliation is about stepping out of our comfort zones to acknowledge our own responsibility, and then actually going and creating relationships with people. We are not here to fix anything. We are here to partner and lift up. History has revealed a trauma that will live on for years to come that we cannot change. Our neighbours need a friend who is there when the going gets tough, who supports them in ways that build them up into who the Creator made them to be.

At the moment, we are merely meeting an immediate need. We hope this will open the door to meaningful relationships where we can support our neighbours as we walk together into a future where the limitless love of Jesus is felt by all who encounter him. As disciples of Jesus, that is all we can really do—go out, love others, serve others, give generously. And always for the glory of our Creator God.

Major Barbara Carey is the director of community and family services in Montreal and the divisional family services consultant and divisional integrated mission secretary in the Quebec Division.

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