LITTLE CURRENT— Little Current United Church Pastoral Charge and the Wikwemikong Board of Education concluded a happy agreement during the Sunday, October 20 church service that saw the church community passing on a $6,000 grant it had facilitated which will be used to augment the in-school student nutrition program at the First Nation’s three schools.
Little Current United Church parishioner Gail Gjos, who is also chair of the church’s Outreach Committee and the congregation’s representative to Sudbury Presbytery, was invited to the pulpit where she recounted the story of the grant and how Wikwemikong schools had entered into the discussion.
The former St. Paul’s United Church in Sudbury had closed, she explained, and its congregation had decided to take part of the proceeds from the sale of the church’s assets (primarily the church property) and to make this money available to other United Church pastoral charges within Sudbury Presbytery if they came up with new mission-related works that could, at least in part, be funded by a grant from the St. Paul’s fund. The cap for each grant was set at $6,500 and there was a “detailed application form to be filled out and sent to a committee for approval,” Ms. Gjos explained.
Peggy McGregor, an employee of the Wikwemikong Board of Education with responsibility for (among other areas) setting up a nutrition program for the community’s three schools, attends Little Current United Church and, last spring, she was in the congregation the day Ms. Gjos explained the St. Paul’s grants and, as Ms. Gjos said Sunday, “we were scratching our heads trying to figure out how we (Little Current Pastoral Charge) could make the best use of this golden opportunity.”
“This was when Peggy entered our deliberations,” Ms. Gjos explained.
Ms. McGregor, hearing the terms of the St. Paul’s grant that Sunday, “presented us with a plan and an opportunity which she brought from her job at the Wikwemikong Board of Education. The plan and the grant application (supporting it) were presented to the presbytery committee and were approved, so here we are today!”
Ms. McGregor, also speaking from the pulpit, had brought with her an eagle feather, “which I had been given about five years ago by the children of my community. This comes with tremendous responsibility, especially to children,” she explained.
Ms. McGregor, who works for the Wikwemikong Board of Education, said that one of the projects with which she has been entrusted “is to set up a nutrition program for Wikwemikong’s three schools.”
“This program had been informally run previously but the goal now is to make it more formalized,” she explained.
Ms. McGregor recalled that when she was at church one Sunday in March and had heard Ms. Gjos speaking about the St. Paul’s grants, “a light bulb went off in my head as I thought ‘what a wonderful way this would be to use these funds’!”
“Wikwemikong doesn’t have a United Church,” Ms. McGregor added, “but I think that, with children, the lines are blurred.” She recalled that she had then approached Pastor Jane Blannin-Bruleigh with the idea and then spoke to Gail Gjos, “and we had to hurry to get the grant application in on time.”
Each of Wikwemikong’s three schools (the Junior School, Pontiac School) and Wikwemikong High School will receive $2,000. The funds will be used in each school to provide equipment like blenders and toasters “to ensure proper food safety and hygiene.”
Ms. McGregor, who had at one time served as Director of Education for her home community of Christian Island in southern Georgian Bay, told the congregation that, “for those of you who don’t know, First Nations education in Canada is underfunded,” explaining that she knew this first-hand because of her earlier experiences. “The grant per student in First nations schools is $5,000 compared to $10,000 per student in, for example, the Rainbow District School Board,” she shared.
Ms. McGregor concluded with her thanks and appreciation to the church with a heartfelt “miigwetch from the children of Wikwemikong!”
Mackenzie Sayers, principal of Pontiac School at Wikwemikong, also attended Sunday’s service, representing Director of Education Dominic Beaudry.
Ms. Sayers, whose home community is Garden River First Nation near the Soo, also took to the pulpit to thank the pastoral charge. She explained that, “I have been with the Wikwemikong Board of Education for 10 years and I fell in love with Manitoulin Island and, especially, with our students. Manitoulin is a wonderful place to live.”
Ms. Sayers explained that it is an important part of her board’s mandate, “to promote lifelong learning” and that all its schools incorporate Anishinaabek world views.
“This grant,” the principal explained, “will enable us to stabilize the nutrition program. We also appreciate the opportunity to build bridges with other communities,” Ms. Sayers added.
She explained that the elementary schools are open from 8 am and that there will be formalized breakfast and snack programs at both elementary schools and a snack program at the high school.
“Appropriate food will help with ‘brain power’,” Ms. Sayers noted. She also said that, in the case where some families are low income, the breakfast and snack programs effectively augments their incomes and so indirectly assists with helping these families stretch their incomes further, also benefitting their children.
Ms. McGregor and Ms. Sayers accepted a cheque for $6,000 from Ms. Gjos, Pastor Jane Blannin-Bruleigh and Ivan Edwards, the pastoral charge’s financial officer.
Following these presentations, Pastor Jane Blannin-Bruleigh, on behalf of the two congregations of her pastoral charge, stated that, “we want to thank you for the opportunity to build this bridge. What is a better opportunity then with children?”