An Indigenous health centre will be the beneficiary of nearly $57,000 in funds raised by an annual walkathon put on by Toronto's Hindu community.

For the last 21 years, Sanatan Mandir Cultural Centre has organized a walkathon to raise money, which is then donated to a different charity each year.

"We live in Canada, we have to give back to this country as well," said Koki Patel, president of fundraising at the SMCC. "So this is our way of exposing our people to Canadian culture as well. We have to do our due diligence here, now, not just back home."

This year, Anishnawbe Health Foundation in Toronto was the chosen beneficiary, in what turned out to be the group's most successful walkathon yet, said Patel.

The initial fundraiser brought in $25,000 in donations, but that was matched by Dr. Chandrakant P. Shah and several other SMCC members. The final total raised was $56,500.

Reconciliation Walk

Anishnaabe community health worker and artist Nyle Johnston offers a prayer and speaks about Truth and Reconciliation before the walkers head out on their route. Beside him is Koki Patel, SMCC President. (Julie Cookson/Contributed)

Shah worked as a physician at AHF's health centre for almost 20 years, said Patel. His work with the centre not only prompted the cultural centre to choose Anishnawbe Health as its charity of choice, but it inspired the event's name to be changed to the Reconciliation Walk to Support Healing for Indigenous Peoples for this year.

"He feels very strongly about the cause," said Julie Cookson, executive director for the foundation. "And [he] believes in it so, he was talking to Koki, who was planning for the walkathon with the cultural center, and they decided to make us the beneficiary of the event this year."

Celebration in charity

Typically, the walkathon happens during the summer and the funds are donated immediately, especially when aiding in disasters, said Patel.  

However, this year the SMCC decided to send the donation during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

"Diwali, for us, is not just a celebration but it's where we bring in the new year," said Patel.

"Diwali is more invoking good things in life, lighting a candle and bringing brightness into homes, happiness, warmth — basically be good people to help out," she added.

While the actual walk did take place in August, organizers saw a unique opportunity to bring together different cultures in celebration.

"What a nice way to celebrate Diwali and give at that time [and] have some representation from the Anishnawbe community as well, coming into our temple to see what we're doing and present [the donation] at that time," said Patel.

New foundation

"This was one of the first communities to come out and do a fundraiser for us. We're really grateful for this tremendous support," said Cookson.

"The vision for the future is that we're going to be all in one home. We're undertaking a new campaign to build a new health centre, so that's where these funds are going to go," she added.

While AHF has been operating for 30 years as a community health centre, it is also a newly registered charity, which offers support to the three health centres that are located in the Greater Toronto Area.

Its mission is "to improve the health and well-being of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in spirit, mind, emotion and body by providing traditional healing within a multi-disciplinary health care model," according to a press release issued by the centre.

The $56,500 cheque will be presented to AHF at the Sanatan Mandir Cultural Centre on Thursday, Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m.

Past beneficiaries of the walkathon include victims of the Fort McMurray fire and a temple in Kitchener, Ont., that had been vandalized.