Making the dream of a good night’s sleep a reality for Whitesand First Nation

Written by Emily Everett, Operations Manager for True North Aid

The morning of November 9th, my colleague Erin and I woke bright and early at a hotel in Thunder Bay after our one a.m. arrival the night before. Our flight from Ottawa had been delayed at the last minute, not giving us much opportunity to rest before another day of travel. Shuffling our stiff bodies out of the hotel and into the car rental, we swiftly made an obligatory stop at Timmies and were on the road. First stop: the Carrick Express Inc terminal.

Inside the massive warehouse, punctuated by the echoing of screeching pallet jack wheels and an overall hum of goods in motion, I laid my eyes for the first time on the reason for our trip. Bundled in six skids to my right sat stacks of pristine Silk and Snow boxes, and within them, the components of 15 entire bed sets. I smirked like a child on Christmas morning to see them piled so neatly along with their tags, ‘Brought to you by True North Aid.’ Within the boxes before me were platforms, mattresses, mattress protectors, sheet sets, duvets with covers, and pillows. All the makings of a good night’s sleep.

After a hardy handshake and introduction to Gordon, Carrick’s Operation Manager, my colleague and I stood well out of the way as we watched an intern named Keigan successfully wheel and load the six pallets onto the back of a truck. Making sure not to avoid a good photo opportunity, Keigan’s grandmother proudly captured the whole operation on her phone.

Back in our rental car, Erin and I buckled in for the long drive north. So often, in my job as Operations Manager for True North Aid, I stare at a computer screen and input logistics into a spreadsheet. Five pallets to be delivered here, one-hundred pounds of supplies to be delivered there. As we followed behind the Carrick Express truck heading north, the spreadsheet came alive. Six pallets from the Carrick terminal in Thunder Bay to be delivered to Whitesand First Nation in northern Ontario––and we were swiftly en route.

For hours, Erin and I listened to music as we followed the twists and turns of the highway, around lakes and through forests of birch trees until we approached Whitesand First Nation. The truck driver slowed and motioned with his arms so as to say, Where do we go now? I opened my phone and dialed Angela, the Health Director for Whitesand First Nation and the reason for our presence there.

“Oh, you’re here!” Angela exclaimed, sounding surprised.

“Yep, we followed the truck and everything,” I answered. “Where should we meet you?”

“I’m actually in a meeting,” Angela whispered. “To be honest, I forgot you were coming!” she laughed. “Follow the road until it curves around to the right. You’ll see a big blue building. The truck can unload there.”

A few minutes later as Erin and I sat in the parking lot at the blue health centre, a woman wearing a bright pink hoodie that read, Be Kind, approached us.

“Are you Angela?” I asked as I stepped out of the car.

“Yes! Emily?” she asked as she reached to shake my hand.

“You guys have proof of vaccination, right?” she asked.

“We do!” I answered, holding my phone to show her, followed shortly after by Erin.

“Awesome. Follow me.”

We followed Angela as she took us through the health centre, back through the gymnasium and to an open door in the back corner.

“We can unload here,” Angela said.

A group of volunteers assisted Angela in unloading boxes from the truck while Erin and I stood back and captured the first delivery of beds for A Good Night’s Sleep campaign.

Over the last few months, us staff at True North Aid have been working hard to process the multitude of applications we have received for new beds from north and remote communities across Canada. Prompted by the frequent requests we receive for new beds, we decided to open up applications in early September on a larger scale. But nothing prepared us for the response that we got. Multiple times a day, notifications chimed on my phone signalling another application had been submitted. By the time we closed applications in mid October, we had received requests for approximately 3,000 new beds in over 100 northern and remote communities. Clearly, we came to realize, we had hit the nail on the head.

Stories poured in about the high costs of mattresses in remote areas, making it almost impossible for a family to prioritize the purchase of new beds over other essential items, also marked-up at exorbitant prices. Compounded by overcrowded housing and high shipping costs, we heard stories about elders sleeping on floors, families of five sharing one bed, and mattresses in such states of disrepair that sleep no longer brought the restoration we all so desperately need.

As someone who suffers from migraines and back pain, I know just how valuable the new bed I got six months ago is to my health and well-being. A good quality bed is the difference between a sleepless night and a restful one, the strength to go about my day or the weight holding me back from living out my full potential. Getting a solid sleep in a comfortable bed is no small thing and yet, every night, thousands of people lack the means to do simply that  because of the inequality that continues to affect Indigenous Peoples in northern Canada.

Angela was one of the many applicants who applied to True North Aid for new beds on behalf of her community.

“They’re going to be so excited!” Angela remarked, referring to the elders that were the soon-to-be-recipients of the beds now stacked in the back of the gymnasium. “Let’s go deliver the first set now!”

Angela gathered some volunteers again and loaded a smaller truck with the components of one queen sized bed.

Erin and I followed behind the truck until we came to a quaint A-frame home. We got out and stood behind Angela as she knocked on the door. Shortly after, we were ushered into the home to meet Cecilia, the very first recipient of a brand new Silk and Snow bed.

Angela began opening some of the boxes as Cecilia sat on her walker looking on, hand clasped to her chest.

“I never thought I’d get a chance for a new bed!” Cecilia exclaimed, grinning ear to ear.

Angela fluffed up a pillow, looking equally excited, then passed it to Cecilia.

“This is the first time I’ve ever had a new bed,” Cecilia said as she gave the pillow a squeeze.

We left shortly after and followed Angela back to the health centre.

“I’ll grab more volunteers in the coming days to deliver the rest of the beds,” Angela told us. She smiled, looking proud.

“That was very heartwarming to see,” she added. “It was like Christmas for the elder.”

I’ll always treasure having had the opportunity to witness the first delivery of beds for A Good Night’s Sleep campaign, but there is much work to be done. While we have been able to approve over 500 new beds for applicants across north and remote communities in Canada, with your help, we could do so much more!

On this Giving Tuesday, consider supporting A Good Night’s Sleep Campaign, and help us bring more beds to Indigenous communities across the north.