If they gave an award out for kicking butt for a great cause, Wemindji would win it hands down.
The Cree communities of Wemindji, Waskaganish, Eastmain and Chisasibi have risen to the top in the uphill battle against diabetes by selling paper reindeer and sleighs to raise almost $35,000.
Wemindji stands on top, having sold 8,767 reindeer at a toonie each and 919 sleighs at $10 each, outpacing the large cities of Winnipeg, Regina and Greater Chisasibi.
Since Northern Stores started selling the paper fundraisers years ago, the Cree numbers have continued to climb and have become more and more impressive each year.
The manager of the Wemindji Northern Store, Doreen Shashaweskum, confessed she had a few tricks up her sleeves this year, such as holding certain events within the community and then using the money raised to purchase $10 sleighs to fight diabetes, but she would not say what those events were.
“It’s a secret,” she said. “We don’t want the other communities to know how we do it.”
Wemindji’s number of 400 snowmen sold from their first real year of selling in 2003 has climbed steadily each year with totals of 3,209, 5,219, 5,406, 8,108 and 8,767. They are aiming for 10,000 in the next few years.
For a small community of less than 2,000 people, Wemindji’s success is a story directly related to the prevailing conditions in the Cree Nation. Diabetes is rampant amongst Crees and the numbers are climbing each year. These reindeer and Santa’s sleighs are seen as ways to combat the disease and raise more awareness through healthier eating habits and a combination of a better overall diet and exercise.
“It went very well, we sold more than last year and I feel pretty good,” said Shashaweskum, who is in her first year as manager. She has been at the store for 26 years. “It’s mostly my staff who was selling them, I give them the credit. I was amazed that we beat our totals from last year.”
Shashaweskum and four of her family members stepped up to the plate and purchased 50 snowmen for $100. She also implemented a plan whereby every time a community member would ask how far ahead they were in sales, she would fib a little and say, “We’re in second, you have to keep buying.” The ruse worked perfectly.
The competition between Chisasibi and Wemindji has been very healthy for the campaign over the years. Chisasibi’s numbers have also steadily impressed, from 7,722 snowmen in 2004 to a dip in sales to 4,479 to an explosion of 9,503 reindeer in 2006.
Shashaweskum said that although there was no direct competition between her store and Chisasibi this time around, that did not mean her employees took the task of fighting the disease any less seriously.
Although Chisasibi only sold 3,569 reindeer in 2007, they are still very much a large part of the overall Canadian sales that has reached it’s second-highest peak of over 46,000 reindeer sold, 2183 sleighs and a new fund raising high of $114,826.
To add to that impressive total, Wemindji also contributed an additional $1,340 -all of the proceeds from their “photos with Santa” promotion.
Shashaweskum said that this year’s totals are impressive but she is hoping to improve each year with the community’s increasing help and a larger awareness of the campaign. “We will get better and better every year. The community is behind us 100 per cent.”