Yellowknife group hands out hundreds of Christmas presents to families in need

An epic bottle drive last month provided the funding for more than $6,000 in toys, books, sports equipment and other presents being handed out for free.

Epic bottle drive funds books, toys and candy for dozens of families

Stuffed animals are piled high on a table while volunteers wrap gifts in the background at the Crazy Indian Brotherhood toy drive in Yellowknife. The event at the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre is the first for the organization's Yellowknife chapter. (John Last/CBC)

Inside Yellowknife's Tree of Peace Friendship Centre on a dark winter morning, a dozen volunteers prep tables heaped high with teddy bears, remote control cars and Barbie dolls.

Michael Fatt calls them his "elves" — which would make him Santa.

This improvised Christmas workshop is the result of an epic bottle drive Fatt ran over the past month, collecting more than $6,000 worth of empties from Yellowknifers.

"Our first run there was overwhelming," he said. "We made five van loads and filled up my shed; it was overflowing into my backyard."

Now, the fruits of that labour are here for all to see — free presents for Yellowknife families that need help filling the space beneath the Christmas tree.

Families can pick from a vast array of children's books, including signed copies of local author Lana de Bastani's book, The Fox and My Boot. (John Last/CBC)

Anytime before 3 p.m. Saturday, families can swing by and make their picks from tables stacked with books, stuffed animals, sports equipment, remote control toys, dolls, board games — you name it.

Fatt's elves are on standby to wrap visitors' selections, and have candy and other small gifts to give away as stocking stuffers as well.

First event for new Yellowknife charity

The event is the first for the Yellowknife chapter of the Crazy Indians Brotherhood.

The organization, founded in Winnipeg in 2007, aims to provide a place where people with addictions or criminality in their past can work to give back to their communities and become positive role models.

Membership is not exclusive to Indigenous people, though the name of the group, and of Yellowknife's still-developing Savage Family chapter, is intended to reclaim language used to insult them.

Fatt poses in his Crazy Indians Brotherhood jacket inside the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre. The giveaway is the result of hours of hard work Fatt performed collecting and processing empties donated by Yellowknife residents. (John Last/CBC)

"Our main focus is going to be … giving back to the community of Yellowknife, to the less fortunate," said Jay Holt, the new chapter's president.

This week, that meant splurging on toys for Yellowknife kids.

"It was fun; I love shopping. I was pretending I was buying them for myself," Fatt said.

"The Christmas he never had as a kid," Holt said with a laugh.

Holt said the toy giveaway is the perfect event to kick things off, though it will be followed by regular "feed the people" events where healthy meals are provided to those in need.

"We're getting positive feedback," said Holt. "We actually turned some volunteers away because it's been overwhelming."

Holt, centre, speaks to volunteers at the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre in Yellowknife. (John Last/CBC)

"People just jumped in and helped out."

Fatt, who earned his "full patch" membership of the brotherhood through the long hours he spent collecting cans and bottles, said the response showed how generous Yellowknifers could be.

"I love the city of Yellowknife," he said. "They're very considerate towards the less fortunate."

For now, selection is limited to one gift per child. Any toys left at the end of the day will be donated to other Yellowknife organizations that are holding toy drives.

Visitors are asked to wear a mask and keep their kids in the car to limit the risk of COVID-19.

For now, families can pick one gift per child. Elves are on hand to assist with wrapping. (John Last/CBC)