Huge uptake for social work students’ winter clothing giveaway
- NC Raine | November 19, 2021
Timing couldn't have been better for a group of Indigenous Social Work students from First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv) in Saskatoon.
The First-year students in Professor Gilbert Kewistep's class organized a winter clothing giveaway at White Buffalo Youth Lodge. In past years, around 70 to 80 people came to get warm clothes. This year the students expected a few more, perhaps over 100.
Then, on November 16th, during a wet and blizzardy winter day, 283 people showed up.
“This is beyond important. These are our people, our community. They are someone's daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, moms, dads,” said Beverly Fullerton, one of the students who led the event.
“They are living a life where they are struggling, and as a community, if we're going to be practicing reconciliation, then we need to be looking after one another,” she said.
In just two weeks the students, with Kewistep's guidance, accumulated an extensive assortment of items from friends, family, businesses and organizations around town. The offerings included winter gear for people of all ages, blankets and bed sheets, indoor clothing, backpacks, purses, feminine and personal hygiene products.
Students also served food they made themselves, along with cupcake donated by Crave Cupcakes and bannock from Chester Knight's Bannock Bistro.
“We had an amazing response from the community,” said Fullerton.
“People need to know they aren't alone in the community. Yes, some people are struggling… and we don't have a quick fix, but if we can be there as support, it's something to show our community we care about them.”
The students also received a $1,000 donation from the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S), which was used to buy women's and men's winter boots for the event.
All of the donated clothing that wasn't distributed at the event was taken to Lighthouse Supported Living centre at the end of the day.
Kewistep, whose students have planned similar giveaways in two pre-COVID years, said the event is a good opportunity for his social-worker-to-be students to truly connect with the community.
“As a social worker, you're going to be going out there, volunteering and helping those in need. You're going to be running across folks who can't afford these things, so we decided to start something to help,” he said.
This was the first time some of the students connected personally with individuals in need, he said.
“I always tell my students, ‘Walk with them. Walk with your people.’ When they come to places like this, be that helping hand. For them to see that, to hear your own people say thank you, that means a lot.”
One of Kewistep's students familiar with making connections in the community is Owen Pelletier, who also works part time as a lived-experience mentor at Str8 Up, a support centre for current and former gang members.
Pelletier said events like the winter clothing giveaway provide a chance to change the perception many Indigenous people have of social workers.
“This is how we give back to the community in a healthy way and show that we care and are here to help in any way we can,” he said.
“Over the years, Indigenous communities have become distrusting of social workers because of so many babies and children being taken away, instead of really working with them, understanding them. So we're learning how to connect with people and understand the traumas that led to where they now are. We can connect with them on a human level, not a social worker-client level.”