A picture that was posted on the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Facebook page shows an entire school bus full of sports and recreation equipment that was donated by the Manitoba Aboriginal Sports and Recreation Council (MASRC) to the Tataskweyak Cree Nation (TCN) a community of about 2,100 residents that sits more than 600 kilometers north of Winnipeg. Handout photoDave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 09, 2022 at 15:10

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Mel Whitesell has seen how lives can be changed when sports equipment gets into the hands of Indigenous children in Manitoba.

“To us, it is collecting equipment, but to them, it’s something that can change their world,” Whitesell, the executive director of the Manitoba Aboriginal Sports and Recreation Council (MASRC) said.

MASRC is a not-for-profit that works to improve the health and well-being of the Indigenous population across Manitoba through sports and recreation, and by offering opportunities for Indigenous children and youth to take part in sports and physical activity here in Winnipeg and in communities in all corners of the province.

“We try to make sure that everyone in Manitoba and all Indigenous people including people in remote communities have some access to sports and recreation,” Whitesell said. “It helps to relieve a lot of the barriers when we can give equipment out to kids and communities that want to get into sports, but often can’t afford the equipment that comes with it.”

According to Whitesell, MASRC runs what she said is a “massive” warehouse operation on Higgins Avenue in Winnipeg, where they collect and distribute used and donated sports equipment to Indigenous children, youth and communities across the province, and she estimates they give out as much as $1 million in sports equipment every year.

“With hockey alone we give out about 500 sets of hockey gear every year, so it’s massive,” she said.

“The warehouse is just one part of it, but it’s a huge part of it because lots of kids can’t afford it in the remote communities and here in the city, and with remote communities we find ways to take it right to them, so even with the fly-in communities we get them what they need.”

Last week the organization donated one school bus and two pick-up trucks full of sports and recreation equipment to the Tataskweyak Cree Nation (TCN) a community of about 2,100 residents that sits 143 kilometres northeast of Thompson, and more than 700 kilometers north of Winnipeg.

In a recent Facebook post, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) thanked MASRC for the donation and posted images of a school bus full of equipment that made its way to TCN.

“It gives people an opportunity, no matter where they are to, first of all, be healthy,” Whitesell said. “And right now people are struggling because kids didn’t leave the house for a long time because of COVID, so there is once again an opportunity to get outside, to take part in sports and activity, and in some cases to find a passion and to excel.”

According to Whitesell they sometimes get donations after hockey seasons have come to an end of entire hockey bags full of equipment and they collect everything from hockey equipment to baseball bats, basketballs, nets, golf clubs, and anything that can be used for sports and recreation.

“As long as it’s not broken, we are delighted to get it and get it into the hands of kids,” she said.

She said they recently donated hockey equipment so girls in the Split Lake community in northern Manitoba could start playing hockey, and they have witnessed girls in the community now taking part in and enjoying organized hockey for the first time.

“We flew it up there, and the girls finally got to play hockey for the first time, and the girls were just beaming,” Whitesell said.

“It’s those little things that make this so fulfilling, and we know that this can change people’s lives.”

MASRC currently accepts sports equipment at a number of locations in the city including at the MASRC Head Office at 145 Pacific Avenue, as well as the Gateway Recreation Centre, Play it Again Sports Winnipeg North, the Allard Arena, the River Heights Community Centre and Canlan Ice Sports.

More information on where and how to donate to MASRC can be found by visiting masrc.com/warehouse-equipment.

This item reprinted with permission from the Sun, Winnipeg, Manitoba