U.S. woman offers handmade mittens, hats to Quebec-bound asylum seekers

Janet McFetridge has been handing out mittens and hats to people as they cross the U.S.-Canadian border illegally at Roxham Road.

Janet McFetridge gives out mittens, hats to people crossing border illegally at Roxham Road

Janet McFetridge, a resident of Champlain, NY, has been handing out hats, mittens, water and snacks at the unofficial U.S. border crossing at Roxham Rd. since March. (Janet McFetridge/Facebook)

Almost every day, Janet McFetridge heads down to the U.S.-Canadian border at Roxham Road, just a few miles from her house in Champlain, N.Y., and doles out hand-knit hats, mittens and scarves to asylum seekers.

While the record numbers of people coming through the unofficial border crossing, not far from Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., has ebbed, McFetridge says people still cross through the illegal entry-point daily.

"I greet them with mittens and hats and scarves because many of them are not prepared for the cold weather that we have here," she told CBC's Daybreak

"It's just very simply offering something that will help them and leaving them with the feeling that there's someone in this country that cares."

Janet McFetridge, right, is hoping to make a small difference by greeting people as they cross over into Canada. (Janet McFetridge/Facebook)

McFetridge usually times her visit to coincide with the arrival of a Greyhound bus from New York City.

Many asylum seekers are fleeing the United States due to fears of losing status and being deported back to their country of origin.

More than 3,800 people crossed the border illegally into Quebec during the two weeks spanning Aug. 1 to Aug. 15.

While there is no longer a strong military presence, the latest numbers from the federal government indicate 1,755 people were intercepted by RCMP officers in October.

The RCMP are still patrolling the area as asylum seekers continue to arrive.

These asylum seekers in early September are steps away from Canada. They pause as the RCMP tell them they will be arrested as they cross over. That's what they've come for, in order to begin a refugee claim in Canada. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

McFetridge started greeting people on their way to the border in March, handing out warm weather essentials donated by friends and volunteers in her community.

"It's a pretty giving community," she said. "I always keep my car stocked."

She says that she feels for those crossing the border, many of them families with young children. Earlier this week, she encountered a group carrying a young child who couldn't be more than two months old.

"They are just seeking a better life for their children," said McFetridge.

Many of the asylum seekers crossing lately have been Nigerian, she said, and those she's spoken with have expressed concern about what will happen to them once they arrive in Canada.

"I'm cautious with them because I think they are very fearful. Who am I that they would trust me?"

Even though the numbers of people crossing every day have died down, she still gives out about 10 items per day.

Of goodwill and compassion

In the summer, during the height of the 2017 crossings, she took to giving out water and snacks.

"In our country there's a xenophobic fear of refugees as a threat, rather than as victims," she said. "And I just want their last interactions on American soil with an American to be one of goodwill and compassion."

A group of refugee claimants arrive by taxi to cross the border from New York into Canada, March 2, 2017. They have been coming steadily since President Donald Trump's election win. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Over months of doing this, McFetridge has gotten to know the cab drivers who often take fares at the end of Roxham Road.

She says that come the rough winter weather, she plans to make sure the taxi drivers carry on taking their fares all the way to the end of the road.

"I hate to think of these people traipsing down the road with their luggage and their little children," she said.

And even when the next round of winter weather comes, McFetridge says she plans to be there, just like always.

"My gesture is very small, but I think its appreciated."

With files from CBC Daybreak