CBC Thunder Bay's Sounds of the Season fundraiser took off Friday as aircraft donated by four companies in northwestern Ontario were packed full of food and flown to eight northern First Nations.
The initiative was carried out with the help of a number of sponsors, including the Thunder Bay International Airport, Wasaya Airways, North Star Air, Perimeter Aviation and KBM Resources.
"This is the culmination of a lot of work by dozens of people in Thunder Bay and across northwestern Ontario," said Michael Dick, the executive producer of CBC Thunder Bay. "I'm proud of this community and the efforts made to help feed those in some of our most northern communities at this time of year."
The planes unloaded food in Eabametoong (Fort Hope), Neskantaga (Lansdowne House), Sandy Lake, Sachigo Lake, North Caribou Lake (Weagamow or Round Lake), Marten Falls (Ogoki), Nibinamik (Summer Beaver) and Kasabonika Lake. The communities are hundreds of kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont., and are not connected to Ontario's all-season highway system.
The remoteness of the communities means it's more expensive to transport even basic goods that far north; consequently, food, including staples like fruit, vegetables and fresh milk, can be hard to come by for families.
A two-litre container of milk can run as high as $10, Marten Falls Chief Bruce Achneepineskum told CBC Thunder Bay's Superior Morning on Friday. "It's very costly if you start to add up the price-per-pound for every item," he continued. "Also, each of the stores has to carry a profit margin to be sustainable."
The Sounds of the Season initiative is expected to provide food—ranging from canned goods and other pantry items to fresh produce—to more than 8,000 people, many of whom are children.
"Most likely it's going to mean relief for the people, not having to worry about food for about a month," Achneepineskum said. "The communities need foods that are fresh, and we're always looking at a way to provide that for the community; it's difficult."
Some of the donated food came from the Southwestern Ontario Gleaners, an organization that gathers farmers' produce that isn't the right size or shape for commercial sale. As well, donations of food and money were collected from people, businesses and organizations through the Thunder Bay Regional Food Distribution Association, the Sounds of the Season sponsors and CBC Thunder Bay.
North Star Air was the first airline to touch down, when its Pilatus PC-12 arrived in Eabametoong Friday morning, delivering about 1,800 kilograms of food, including turkeys.
"Very generous," said Eabametoong Coun. Harry Papah, after the aircraft landed in the community of about 1,500, and boxes of food were being unloaded.
From there, the plane stopped in Neskantaga, before making its final drop in Marten Falls First Nation.
"This is going to be awesome, especially for the kids," said Lance Baxter Sr., but added that Marten Falls is in a very difficult situation where even basic necessities are hard to come by.
"Our store is going to be going down, we have no gas station," he said. "We're in crisis."
Perimeter Aviation's first stop on Friday was North Caribou Lake, where the Dash 8-300 plane unloaded the community's share of food before taking off for Sachigo Lake, where it successfully delivered the rest of its cargo.
Each community received about half of the over-4,200 kilograms of food the aircraft was carrying. Pauline Greene, a councillor in Sachigo Lake, said the donations will go a long way in helping her community of about 500 people.
"With the high cost of living up north, this will help [families] stretch their money and have a better Christmas," she said. "With this food, it will alleviate some of the stress for the household."
Greene added that she was pleasantly surprised that fresh produce — as well as some other goodies for the kids — were included. "I saw some toys there for the kids, I'm just amazed at what came in."
Wasaya Airways made the trip from Thunder Bay to Sandy Lake via Sioux Lookout on Friday. When the food arrived in the community, one of the employees told CBC News the fresh vegetables included are a necessary supplement to the wild game caught by hunters in the community.
"The food that comes in, when it's given to the people, they're very grateful for that, and it actually does supplement the food that we get from the land here," Monias Fiddler said. "I know there's still hunters that bring in wild game, and they distribute it to their family members and people who need food."
In Nibinamik, community officials told CBC News the food donated to the First Nation will be used for a Christmas Day feast. KBM Resource Group's Cessna 206 made the roughly 500 kilometre trek north from Thunder Bay.
"Everybody pitches in by cooking and providing what they can, like a potluck," said Nora Wapoose, the executive secretary to Nibinamik's chief and council. "In the past we've had just the basic stuff."
Wapoose added that it can be a struggle for residents to get enough to eat. Having her community be part of Sounds of the Season was really nice, she added.
Sounds of the Season also raised $50,000 in cash donations.
In Thunder Bay, the festivities on Friday featured a live broadcast of Superior Morning from 6 – 8:30 a.m., from the city's airport. Up North also broadcast live from the airport from 5–6 p.m. Both shows featured live music from Thunder Bay musician Jean-Paul De Roover.
CBC journalists were in the air and on the ground in Ontario's far north, following the food shipments as they reach their destinations.
Staff from CBC Thunder Bay were also at the airport, giving away holiday ornaments. Officials with the Thunder Bay International Airport offered free parking Friday for people who came to support Sounds of the Season.