When two friends from the Nipissing First Nation heard that nominations were being accepted for unsung COVID-19 heroes, they thought of each other.
Sgt. Chantal Larocque with the Anishiknabek Police Service knew that Lynn Otonicar had gone above and beyond the call of duty during the coronavirus pandemic to provide food for Elders and other vulnerable people on the territory. Otonicar was aware that the police sergeant had gone out of her way to connect with younger people to make sure they knew they were not being ignored during the COVID outbreak.
“I was actually surprised when Lynn called and I was glad she was nominated as well. For me, I would guess it’s because of the work I have done on the side and in between the typical police calls,” Larocque said. “That would be thinking outside the box, particularly during COVID. I’ve had a lot of contact with the youth and the kids in our community just to try to build a rapport as part of Truth and Reconciliation in terms of the history with police.
Larocque said that until normal circumstances she would be connecting with these youngsters at their school. But due to the coronavirus, that has not been possible.
“I was trying to find a way to have contact with the kids … so I taped a box of Mr. Freezies to the front of my cruiser during the summer. I know where they all live so I drove into their yards. I told them it was COVID-friendly (no contact) Mr. Freezies. So I handed out freezies to all the kids in the community,” Larocque said.
Larocque said she also made a couple of ride-along COVID videos that she posted to her own Facebook page.
Otonicar is a registered nurse who is currently off on maternity leave with an infant at home. She said when COVID started back in March, her five-year-old son, with her help, baked homemade dog treats, sold them to friends and family and donated the money to the local food bank. Otonicar said that raised about $80.
“Then at Thanksgiving, we did a food drive. We live in one of the communities on the First Nation so we went house-to-house asking if people were interested in donating non-perishable food items. There are two kids the same age as my son who live right next door who helped. We called them the three musketeers,” Otonicar said. "We collected 205 pounds of food for the food bank. Everyone was so kind.”
Typically both Otonicar and Larocque said that they don’t view themselves as heroes. They said they simply did what they did in order to help people, young and old, to try to get through this devastating global pandemic.
They both had high praise for each other.
“Chantal wanted to make sure kids were safe and healthy during COVID and that they knew where to go if they needed help,” Otonicar said of Larocque.
“Lynn takes on community initiatives and serves as a great example. The community is fortunate to have her,” Larocque said of her friend.
John McFadden is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Indigenous issues for MuskokaRegion.com, ParrySound.com and Simcoe.com. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.
John McFadden, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Parry Sound North Star