Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
An Indigenous youth council in northern Ontario will once again be assisting some of its members thanks to funding from the Toronto Blue Jays.
This marks the third consecutive year the Jays Care Foundation, the charitable arm of Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays, is providing about $300,000 in funding to Indigenous communities across the country to help combat food insecurity.
The Mushkegowuk Council Youth Department, based in Timmins, Ont., is getting $10,000 in funding. This organization has received funding each year since the program’s inception.
The Mushkegowuk Council is a regional organization in northeastern Ontario. It represents the collective interests of seven First Nations—Kashechewan, Fort Albany, Chapleau Cree, Missanabie Cree, Moose Cree, Taykwa Tagamou and Attawapiskat.
Nadeen Carey, the Mushkegowuk Youth Council Department’s regional youth co-ordinator, said the funding provided by the Jays Care Foundation will be sufficient to provide $50 gift cards to 170 recipients.
In previous years the Mushkegowuk organization gave out gift cards from Jays Care Foundation funding to post-secondary students.
“This year we’ve opened it up to high school students as well,” Carey said.
In addition to a gift card, program recipients will also be getting school supplies, a cold-weather hat, hygiene products and condoms.
“It’s just a way of showing our appreciation that they are doing well in school,” Carey said. “It’s a chance for us to do some outreach as well.”
In previous years, the Mushkegowuk group had provided its program recipients with Subway and Tim Hortons gift cards. She said a decision had yet to be made this year on what gift cards to provide students with.
Carey said the cards will be handed out on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Mushkegowuk Youth Council Department is one of 21 Indigenous communities or organizations across Canada that received some funding from the Jays Care Foundation initiative.
In order to be eligible for funding, First Nations or groups from across the country must also have operated an Indigenous Rookie League in their community during the year.
The Jays Care Foundation also provides the funding to start and operate these baseball leagues in Indigenous communities.
About 17,000 Indigenous people are expected to benefit from the latest Jays Care Foundation funding programs.
“Everybody is doing something a little bit different,” said Julia Ursini, the foundation’s program manager.
Ursini said the foundation’s food security funding program in Indigenous communities was launched in 2021 during the height of the pandemic when in-person baseball programs were put on hold.
“That’s when this initiative came into play,” Ursini said.
The Jays currently operate more than 150 inclusive baseball programs in Indigenous communities throughout Canada.
Those communities that have a baseball program were invited to apply for a food security program as well.
Some First Nations or groups, like the Mushkegowuk Youth Council Department, opted to run a short-term initiative, like the distribution of its gift cards. Other short-term programs include providing holiday food hampers or school meal programs.
Longer-term initiatives include communities launching food banks or greenhouses.
Since the Jays are based in Ontario, Ursini said foundation officials were keen to present about half of the $300,000 in funding to Indigenous groups from the province.
Others from Ontario who received some funding are Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation, Apitipi Anicinapek Nation, Golden Avenue Public School in Timmins, Kashechewan Health Services Board, Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and Six Nations of the Grand River’s parks and recreation department.
Other program recipients were from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Nunavut.
Like the Mushkegowuk Youth Council Department, the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre (WASAC) is once again receiving some Jays Care Foundation funding this year.
With funding it received last year WASAC was able to provide food, snacks and clean drinking water for children in five Indigenous communities in northern Manitoba during their after-school programs, holiday events and cultural events.
A couple of the northern Manitoba communities also created their own after-school cooking programs where youth learned how to prepare healthy foods and snacks.