Tilbury, Ont. school overwhelmed with donations for northern reserve Neskantaga

Tilbury, Ont. school overwhelmed with donations for northern reserve Neskantaga

A southern Ontario school was overwhelmed with an outpouring of donations after word spread about a campaign to help out a remote First Nation reserve that has been under a boil-water advisory for years.

Staff at St. Francis Catholic School in Tilbury chose to help out the people of Neskantaga, a fly-in community located in the James Bay lowlands — about 450 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.  

But so many donations were sent to the school, organizers had to put the delivery of the goods on hold until transportation could be arranged.

"We went over and above their expectation of totes, so I think they had to raise more money than expected," said Anne-Marie Belleperche, a teacher at St. Francis. 

Neskantaga residents have been under a boil water advisory for more than two decades. Getting basic supplies such as water and hygiene products is a constant struggle because costs are astronomically high.

These challenges inspired St. Francis teachers, students and parents to launch their Project of the Heart campaign, quickly gathering enough supplies to fill 48 large, plastic totes that were supposed to be shipped north after spring break.

That's when word spread throughout Tilbury about the campaign and more donations flooded in to the school. More than 120 totes are now stacked throughout the school waiting to be shipped off.

"They were very surprised to see we were doing this, so they were very generous," Belleperche said of the community. "We thought we were going have to remove some stuff."

Monique Castonguay is the inspiration for the project. As the education lead for First Nation, Metis, Inuit students at the Providence Catholic School Board, she lived in a remote Ontario community and knows first-hand of their struggles. 

"When we find out students have to miss school because they don't have the basic hygienic products … that is just not right," she told CBC News.

Castonguay was also the inspiration behind a similar project that culminated over the holidays when a Leamington Catholic school sent a massive shipment of food, clothing and toys to Bearskin Lake First Nation, located 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.

Victoria McDonald and her five-year-old daughter Emma posted popular videos to social media, providing updates on the donations as they rolled in. The videos spread quickly, inspiring more donations with every post.

"We might be a small school, but we have big hearts," Victoria said, describing the outpouring of support from the community.