It’s a beautiful thing to see Canadians across our country working together to defeat the COVID-19 crisis.
In Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, two groups you might think have no reason to interact are working together to ensure the inner-city population, including those most at risk of catching the dreaded virus, remains healthy and safe while still receiving the daily essentials they require.
The Saskatoon Tribal Council, with the support of the Saskatoon Wildlife Federation and other community groups, is on pace to deliver 1,500 meals per day to those in need.
When COVID-19’s social distancing measures came into force, Chief Mark Arcand, head of the Saskatoon Tribal Council, surveyed his community to determine who needed support. He identified 430 residences housing 1,460 people desperately in need of help.
“With those numbers in hand, I did a radio interview about the needs of our community,” says Chief Arcand. “Robert Freberg, past president and fundraising chair of the Saskatoon Wildlife Federation, immediately reached out to me and asked, ‘How can we help?’.”
“I told him we’re looking for donations to purchase food and try to keep vulnerable people at home while ensuring they still have the basic necessities of life, including food, toiletries and other essentials. He said, ‘I’m on it. I’ll get back to you.’ The next thing I know he’s raised a ton of money and opened the club’s kitchen to help meet the demand for food.”
When asked why, Freberg gave a simple answer.
“We’re responsible members of our community. We always pull together in times of need, which is really just a reflection of our core values of compassion, integrity and being good neighbours.”
The Saskatoon Wildlife Federation was already very familiar with the White Buffalo Youth Lodge, a community centre and the social services delivery arm of the Saskatoon Tribal Council. White Buffalo primarily serves Saskatoon’s inner-city native community.
The Federation has always delivered hunter education, firearms safety training, archery and air rifle programs for both youth and adults and, in recent years, worked with White Buffalo and North American Indigenous Games athletes (NAIG) as part of its ongoing outreach programming.
For the past 30 years, the Federation has also run its “Hunt for Hunger” program which takes in donated wild game, processes it and delivers the packaged meat to local food banks, all at no charge.
“So when Chief Arcand reached out to the larger Saskatoon community for assistance,” Freberg said, “it was a no-brainer. Inside a week we were able to raise over $35,000 that will be used to feed thousands of people over the next few weeks, but we are in this for the long haul. We plan to keep this going until the end of June, at least.”
“As of next Thursday,” Chief Arcand said, “we’ll be feeding over 1,500 meals every day at lunch and another 1,500 meals at dinner. People are really hurting right now, and we’re ramping up our efforts to meet the demand.”
Meeting the Need
The Saskatoon COVID-19 Food Program needs donations of both food and cash. In one sense, cash is preferable because the lunches they build each day are from a simplified menu, meaning it’s just easier if they can purchase what they need to build 1,500 nutritious lunches and dinners as economically as possible.
“But,” Chief Arcand said, “If a major food company wants to come and support what we’re doing, we’re not going to turn away a semi-trailer of food. And if the food bank calls and asks if we can deliver canned food or boxes of cereal to everyone, the answer is yes, absolutely.”
“The Saskatoon Wildlife Federation is our largest non-traditional partner,” Chief Arcand said. “They’ve offered their kitchen and volunteers to make meals every day. They really stepped up to the plate and kick-started this whole thing to the next level. We’re really grateful for everything they’re doing.”
“We’re also running a lottery to raise more money for COVID-19 relief,” said Robert Freberg. “Wild Boar Adventures, an outfitter in North Battleford, donated a 3-day wild boar hunt and North Pro Sports donated a hunting rifle. The winner of the lottery receives the entire package, and this will raise a significant amount of money we will use to buy more food for this crucial program.”
Walking the Walk
“What are the people who want to take away our guns and our proud hunting heritage doing?” Freberg asks. “I’ll tell you. Zero. Absolutely nothing. Meanwhile, we’re here doing what we’ve done for the past 70 years – helping out in whatever way we can, expecting nothing in return.”
On top of the 6-10 volunteers making meals at the Saskatoon Wildlife Federation kitchen every day, the Tribal Council has 12 drivers and 30 staff working to make sure help reaches those who need it most.
“We’re fortunate so much of the underlying infrastructure was already in place,” said Chief Arcand. “For example, our call centre obtains all the required information and our staff was re-tasked to create delivery routes and schedules for drivers, make food and package it for delivery.”
Despite the seemingly smooth-running machine already in place, this is a gargantuan effort.
“As a tribal chief in the Saskatoon Tribal Council, I want to encourage everybody to follow the rules the government has set to ensure everyone is social distancing and staying safe,” said Chief Mark Arcand.
“That’s the whole reason we’re doing what we’re doing – to keep people safe.”
Thanks to the help of sponsors and support from community groups like the Saskatoon Wildlife Federation, the Saskatoon Tribal Council is able to help so many more people than they could if they were working alone.
But this has always been the way of Canada’s responsible firearm and conservation community – to help out friends and neighbours whenever the need arises.
“This program burns cash like mad,” Robert Freberg says, “so what we need most are donations.”
The Saskatoon Wildlife Federation will facilitate tax receipts for every donation of $50 or more, but their website is not set up for e-Commerce. To fill that gap, the CSSA set up a donation link through its web store.
If you want to support the efforts of the Saskatoon Wildlife Federation and the Saskatoon Tribal Council to keep the most vulnerable members of their community safe during this crisis, please donate using the link above, and 100% of all donations made through the CSSA will go directly to the COVID-19 relief efforts in Saskatoon.