The B.C. woman behind a campaign that sends food care packages to Canada's remote north says she's been blown over by the flood of people wanting to help.
Outraged when she heard about the astronomical grocery prices in the north, Jennifer Gwilliam began the Facebook group Helping Our Northern Neighbours last summer to organize food shipments for families in need. But what began with humble dreams and 2,000 members has quintupled in less than a week after Gwilliam's efforts were first featured on The Huffington Post B.C.
The response has left an overwhelmed (albeit excited) Gwilliam working 16-hour days just to keep up.
"It's amazing because the response we've had from all across the country, and to every media article and everything, has been so positive," the Vancouver Island woman tells HuffPost B.C. "It's just incredible. Obviously there was a need for this because it's just grown unbelievably."
And people in the group are passionate, many of them posting suggestions for how to expand the reach and secure assistance from local companies and stores.
Several regional groups have also sprung up under the Helping Our Northern Neighbours umbrella, allowing donors in the same city to pool their resources. Gwilliam says it's a great alternative for people who want to help but don't have the time or money to ship an entire box themselves.
Some of the groups sponsor food banks in Nunavut; Gwilliam says she hopes to see that eventually happen for all such facilities in the territory.
With the huge surge in Canadians wanting to help — as well as people seeking the aid — Gwilliam is doing her best to stay on top of the constant flow of mail. (And she does have one group administrator helping her keep tabs on things.)
Gwilliam addresses the oldest requests first, so she urges people to be patient and avoid sending more than one message because it will push them back to the bottom of the list. She estimates a wait of at least a few days before donors can be matched to recipients; those who request to help a specific family size or location will likely wait longer.
Managing the initiative has become "more than" a full-time job the 59-year-old says. Gwilliam has spent her life doing humanitarian work around the world, but this is the first time she's been able to sink her giving teeth into Canada. She recently submitted the necessary paperwork so that Helping Our Northern Neighbours can become a registered charity.
But despite inspiring thousands of people across Canada (and even some in the U.S.), Gwilliam is quick to deflect praise.
"It's not about me, it's about the people who need help," she says.
"I'm just glad that this little idea I had started rolling and picked up steam, because we're able to do so much more. I'd like to make it clear that is not about me, or what I can do, or how I feel, or the kudos I've got from it. It's about these people who've obviously been crying out for a long time and nobody's been hearing them."
That is, until now.
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