If the hard work of Northern Stores employees in Eeyou Istchee is any indication, diabetes might be a thing of the past thanks to ambitious fundraising to fight the disease.

The chain’s workers are once again fundraising by selling paper snowmen, with the proceeds going towards research and treatment.

This year, Wemindji sold 5,406 small snowmen at $2 a piece. They also sold an unprecedented 309 large snowmen at $20 each. That means that the community of less than 1,200 sold almost $17,000 worth of snowmen to fight diabetes! They were far and away the leaders, outpacing larger stores like the Giant Tiger stores in Winnipeg and Moose Jaw. The campaign wrapped up December 31.

“I feel good,” said Doreen Shashaweskum, the interim manager of Wemindji’s Northern Store. “My cashiers wanted to beat what they did last year. They would ask people if they wanted to buy one at the cash. I’m very proud of them.”

Customers kept asking if the store had beaten last year’s total, she added. “We kept updating them on what we needed to sell and they kept buying. One of my staff went twice door to door to sell the snowmen. It (the credit) all goes to the girls, not me,” she said modestly.

Another way Wemindji raised funds was by having a merchandise bingo. Any money raised was put directly to purchasing snowmen. Other fundraising secrets, however, will remain that way Shashaweskum chuckled.

Chisasibi also put up impressive numbers as well with 4,479 small and 18 large snowmen sold, for a total of over $9,300.

In all, the Giant Tiger and Northern Stores across Canada raised $107,868 by snowmen sales alone this season. That total consisted of 49,843 small snowmen sold and 410 large or family-sized snowmen sold.

“I felt we exceeded expectations this year,” said Jim Deyell, North West Company’s Director of Public Affairs Northern Canada. “I was happy to see that it wasn’t just a staff effort. Some of them reached out to the schools to give them a better understanding of what we were doing and help them participate in it. We had school children involved and that helps to get the message out to the community.”

North West Company’s efforts, which also included a walkathon for diabetes in Hawaii and a coin drop box, raised almost $160,000 for 2005. The money is slated to help the Canadian Diabetes Foundation for research purposes.

For many years, North West has been a leader in northern communities in the fight against diabetes and promoting healthy lifestyles. The healthy living food program, which helps individuals identify what is good for them to eat, has been going on for 19 years across Canada’s north.

Another initiative, which should be interesting to parents in Eeyou Istchee, is North West’s drop-the-pop campaign. Currently only in Nunavut, it consists of having kids give up soda for one week a year in hopes of eventually weaning them off for good, or at least cutting their intake.

Aside from the fact that Crees suffer from diabetes at a rate of more than three times their Canadian counterparts, Shashaweskum also said there are other reasons the community is very eager to help. “We have three people from here who live in Chisasibi on dialysis machines, I think that’s part of why so many people are supportive,” she said, adding that she also has a sister stricken with the disease.

According to the Cree Health Board’s 2004 statistics, almost 14 per cent (or one in every seven) of Eenouch 15 years and older suffer from diabetes.

“The thing is to find a cure,” Shashaweskum concluded. “That’s what we’re hoping. I also hope we’ll beat (our numbers) again next year!”