With a ring of the cash register and a wipe of the brow, Northern Store workers wrapped up their fight against diabetes with a smile just in time for the New Year.

As reported last year in the Nation, Northern Stores across Eeyou Istchee are in an annual battle in their fight against diabetes (and for bragging rights) by selling paper snowmen at $2 a pop.

Last year’s far and away leader was Wemindji, which managed to sell 3,209 snowmen. The number is even more incredible when you consider the community’s population of only 1,200 people!

They improved on that total this time around by selling 5,219 snowmen!

Wemindji, along with the Northern Stores in Eastmain, Chisasibi, Whapmagoostui and Waskaganish wrapped up their awareness campaign on December 31. Their goal was to sell as many $2 snowmen as possible with the proceeds going towards diabetes research for the Canadian Diabetes Association.

They combined to sell an astounding 13,076 snowmen!

Things were a little different in 2004, however. It was war – kind hearted and for a good cause – but war nonetheless.

“I called Brian (Wemindji’s Northern Store manager) at the beginning of the year to say that we were going to kick his butt,” laughed Brent Bowen, the manager at the Chisasibi store.

Last year, Bowen admitted he wasn’t familiar with the program and didn’t put in the effort necessary to compete with Wemindji. This year was a different story.

“Wemindji was the winner last year and they’ve done an excellent job,” said Bowen. “But this being my second year, we decided we’d give them a run for their money.”

Bowen helps inspire the staff to sell by providing little incentives like a free breakfast for the best seller of the day.

“We’ve been pushing real hard to sell them and we had the entire town involved. We had the band office, the Rona, the co-op, and the coffee shops all selling snowmen to fight this disease,” he said proudly. Their goal was to sell $15,000 worth of snowmen, or roughly 7,500 snowmen.

They fell short in selling 6,722, but an amazing statistic is that they outsold 10 Giant Tiger stores in Winnipeg by almost 500 snowmen.

“The response has been overwhelming in the community. The entire town has really gotten behind us and it’s excellent to see.”

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed across Canada. Bowen received an email from a manager at a Northern Store in Manitoba whose grandfather has diabetes. His store had sold 100 snowmen and could not fathom the space it would take to put thousands on the wall. He wished to thank the two stores for their unbelievable achievement and added; “you haven’t just recorded the most sales, you’ve really helped to make a difference in the fight for a cure.”

“We’ve (Chisasibi and Wemindji) far outdone the rest of the country,” said Bowen. “There’s no other store that even comes close so the staff and the people should hold their heads high.” Brian Haines has only been in Wemindji since June, but he’s humbly picked up where the previous manager left off. “I asked my staff to sell and they did,” he said. “I don’t think I sold 10 or 12 snowmen myself, it really wasn’t about me; it was the staff led by Doreen Sash who really came through.

“The community also played a big part, once they realized that the other communities were challenging us, they jumped on the bandwagon. They weren’t going to let them beat us,” he said.

“The Cree have really blown everyone (across Canada) away with their enthusiasm and dedication they have in fighting this disease.”

The fight against this disease is a personal one for the people. The diabetes rate in Eeyou Istchee is three times that of other Canadians. Because of that, it’s less surprising when two of the Cree stores sell over 5,000 Frosties each. Yet the Winnipeg affiliate, Giant Tiger, can only manage sales of 6,236, despite their much larger population.

This year, 36,505 snowmen were sold in all 162 Northern Stores across Canada. That represented an increase of close to 10,000 paper snowmen! When you consider that each snowman is $2 and the Northwest Company tops that off with a $ I donation per snowman, the company’s donation to the CDA was pegged at almost $110,000.