Change agents: 3 Sask. women who were heroes in their communities in 2022

Rebecca Sylvestre-Lemaigre, left, project manager of the Turner Lake and Birch Narrows Community Food Centre in northern Saskatchewan, won an award for health and wellness at the Strength of Our Women Awards Gala in November in Saskatoon. (Submitted by Rebecca Sylvestre-Lemaigre - image credit)
Rebecca Sylvestre-Lemaigre, left, project manager of the Turner Lake and Birch Narrows Community Food Centre in northern Saskatchewan, won an award for health and wellness at the Strength of Our Women Awards Gala in November in Saskatoon. (Submitted by Rebecca Sylvestre-Lemaigre - image credit)

It doesn't take much to be a hero. It can be something smaller, like helping someone cross the street or offering to cook some meals for a family that's experiencing illness.

Then there are those who turn their compassion into action on a grand scale.

Saskatchewan is full of women who are heroes not only in their communities, but outside the borders of their towns and cities.

CBC News spoke to three of these women about what they accomplished in 2022 and what they hope to do in 2023.

Nicole White

Everyday items are far more expensive in northern Saskatchewan than in the south. When costs are double or more, things other than food and household necessities become nonessential items.

That includes menstrual products.

"Something that I can get in Saskatoon for $5 would be $20 to $25 for a northern family. And if you're living under the poverty line, [a menstrual product is] considered a luxury product and is definitely taken off the list every month," said Nicole White, founder of Moon Time Sisters.

Moon Time Sisters is a collective that helps people in northern and remote communities across Canada access menstrual products they otherwise could not afford. The group has been doing so since 2017, but White said 2022 was a big year thanks to a donation from apparel company Joe Fresh.

"They have given us $100,000 and they actually launched their line, a period underwear, with us and donated 10,000 pairs that we were sharing across the country," White said.

Submitted by Nicole White
Submitted by Nicole White

While Moon Time Sisters now serves across Canada, White is still very much focused on helping those in northern Saskatchewan.

The organization provides communities with cloth pads, menstrual cups, tampons, pads and now underwear, to be distributed for free at places like counselling offices, schools and community based organizations.

In 2022, Moon Time Sisters donated their two millionth product to northern and remote communities.

White said she loves that she's helping to de-stigmatize the conversation around menstruation.

"I'm a change agent. That's me. I push back. I do not accept the norm. How do we build something better? That's really what I want to strive to for."

So what's next for Moon Time Sisters? White said the organization is going through a rebranding, to be inclusive of two spirit and transgender menstruators. Soon, it will be called Moon Time Connections.

"We worked closely with a group of two spirit elders to help us identify that name to honour and recognize all of our members who menstruate in the community."

Moon Time Sisters/Facebook
Moon Time Sisters/Facebook

As for White, she's got other causes on her plate for 2023.

White is project lead at Enough Already Saskatchewan, an organization that works to address and prevent workplace sexual harassment through workshops.

"We've been really busy specifically with male-dominated workplaces this last year. And I think we want to continue to do that work, especially branching out in construction and in the trades," White said.

Jennifer Denouden

Regina property developer and property manager Avana has served as corporate sponsor for Lulu Lodge's Walk the Walk fundraising events for two years.

Avana develops residential homes that it rents, and has a specific focus on affordable housing. It partners with community organizations to help women and children who have experienced intimate partner violence get housing.

Submitted by Jennifer Denouden
Submitted by Jennifer Denouden

Lulu's Lodge is a transitional home for LGBTQ individuals between the ages of 16 and 21 who are facing homelessness. It's run by the Regina branch of the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan.

"I have four young kids. I could not imagine putting them in that situation or seeing another child in that situation," said Jennifer Denouden, president and CEO of Avana.

Denouden and her husband Troy made helping Lulu's Lodge a central focus in 2022. She learned about the suicide rates of the LGBTQ community and the home's constant wait list.

"At Avana, we have quite a high percentage of staff that identifies from the LGBTQ2S+ community. And so it's important for myself as a leader to show through actions such as words that we are inclusive. And so I got involved and more educated on the community and their needs and how often they're overlooked," said Denouden.

That led Denouden and her husband to donate $100,000 to Lulu's Lodge in August.

"We really believe in not taking our situation and our success for granted. We built a business from very, very small to very, very big in a quite short amount of time," Denouden said.

"I think people with privilege often get so comfortable in it and and forget that they actually are privileged and they forget to use it for the right reasons. I try as much as I possibly can to keep educating myself and identifying ways that I can show up for people who don't have that."

Denouden said that in 2023, Avana will sponsor the YWCA's Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, contribute operational funding to Sophia House and once again sponsor Lulu Lodge's Walk the Walk fundraising event.

Tyler Pidlubny/CBC
Tyler Pidlubny/CBC

Rebecca Sylvestre-Lemaigre

Until 2022, Rebecca Sylvestre-Lemaigre, project manager of the Turner Lake and Birch Narrows Community Food Centre in northern Saskatchewan, was a one woman show and a tireless one at that.

Now she has three new employees to help her with the centre's expanding programs.

The centre, located 330 kilometres north of Meadow Lake, does not simply give out food to those in need. Instead it teaches community members how to cook traditional and nutritious foods through funding provided by Community Food Centres Canada. The newly minted Mind Your Food program now offers baking classes as well.

Submitted by Rebecca Lemaigre-Sylvestre
Submitted by Rebecca Lemaigre-Sylvestre

In 2022, the centre had its kitchen renovated and a new community garden was added behind the building.

That's not the end of it. The centre will change a great deal in 2023, as Sylvestre-Lemaigre works to open a "huge" playground and a walking area for the elders who visit the centre.

In November, Sylvestre-Lemaigre won an award for health and wellness at the Strength of Our Women Awards Gala in Saskatoon.

"They gave me an award for health and wellness because they believe that I'm keeping the culture strong," said Sylvestre-Lemaigre, who is proud of the accomplishment.

Submitted by Rebecca Syslvestre-Lemaigre
Submitted by Rebecca Syslvestre-Lemaigre

Turner Lake and Birch Narrows Community Food Centre also expanded its camping and hunting programming in 2022 to include children from other communities like La Loche and Meadow Lake.

"They went out hunting and we spent like five days on the land. They got to go out in the cold weather and learn how to call the moose. It was amazing."

Elders are never left out. They also had a special camping and hunting trip.

"They got to go back to their roots and they got to go back to where they grew up. So they were showing us memories of rocks that they scraped their names on, and where they had their first kiss. It was so cute."

Sylvestre-Lemaigre said her focus for 2023 will be reaching out to youth in the community as much as possible.

"I think youth need to go back to the centre. Because of the pandemic they were so isolated in their own home," she said.

"A lot of them are still getting used to being together, and building that trust again. We need to put them back together and get them socialized together again."

Turner Lake and Birch Narrows Community Food Centre/Facebook
Turner Lake and Birch Narrows Community Food Centre/Facebook