With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting people in the wallets and now, with in-person shopping for non-essential items banned in most of the province, including Thompson, people are banding together to help ensure a merry Christmas for those who can’t get gifts online or get to stores to buy essentials.
Since late October, local Sikh temple Thompson Khalsa Darbar has been offering a free ride service in Thompson, picking up people in two cars donated by program sponsor North Star Taxi and taking them to their destination.
“They can’t afford it and need a ride just call us,” says Nama Sandhu, president of Thompson Khalsa Darbar, which was founded in 2013 and is located at 721 Thompson Drive South in the Southwood Mall.
Over about five weeks of operation the service has given more than 1,000 rides, Sandhu says, and can usually pick people up within half an hour of them phoning in a request, sometimes quicker if the drivers aren’t currently on the road.
“It was crazy here a couple days ago,” says Sandhu. “We were behind like half an hour.”
With many people not yet finished their Christmas shopping, last week’s public health order preventing shoppers from purchasing non-essential items in person has left some people distraught, says Sariviea Ellsworth, who spoke with a woman in Walmart who burst into tears on the afternoon of Nov. 19 because she didn’t know how she was going to complete her Christmas shopping. Ellsworth spoke about how to help the situation with her friend Tiffany Price and they came up with the North of 55 Toy Drive 2020, which is also being assisted by Joelinn Reid, Rikki Linklater and Alyssa Anderson.
They toy drive has picked five communities to buy children’s Christmas presents for, including Leaf Rapids, Lynn Lake and Black Sturgeon Falls First Nation, as well as Split Lake, God’s Lake and Shamattawa, Ellsworth says.
“The reason that we picked these communities is because they’re more isolated and they may not have resources that the other communities might have,” says Ellsworth. “We obviously know there is a huge need but we can’t do it all.”
North of 55 Toy Drive 2020 is accepting donations, of either unwrapped toys or of money, until Dec. 11. The organization has raised $3,570 since starting up on Nov. 21 but Ellsworth says that money has come from 16 donations and she would like to see more. The organization is working to get registered as a charity so that it can give out donation receipts to people who ask for them.
To donate for North of 55 Toy Drive 2020, go to their website at northof55toydrive.ca where you can make donations by credit card or PayPal.
“Every dollar counts, if it’s 10 bucks, if it’s 20 bucks,” says Ellsworth.
If you want to donate a toy or in another way, such as through a gift card, you can contact the organizers by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through their Facebook page.
Thompson Khalsa Darbar’s free rides program is continuing at least until New Year’s Eve, says Sandhu, possibly filling a gap left by the absence of Operation Red Nose, which usually provides free designated driving on weekend nights from late November until New Year’s.
Following the launch of Thompson Khalsa Darbar’s free rides program, the City of Thompson posted a notice on its Facebook page warning that unlicensed drivers are not subject to the same sort of controls as taxi drivers but Sandhu says safety is built into the program. Everyone using the service is required to wear masks and the door handles and other high-touch areas of the vehicles used are cleaned between passengers. He also says that all of the drivers so far have been holders of Class 4 licences and that the organization checks their driving history and if they have a criminal record before accepting them as volunteers.
Rides with Thompson Khalsa Darbar can be arranged by calling 204-778-3340 or by emailing email@example.com.