There are volunteers gracious with their time and then there are people like Tereina Neubauer who drive to British Columbia and back to collect hundreds of dresses and suits for people she doesn’t know.
Neubauer took that trek last fall, crossing western Canada from city to city to wrangle formal wear from friends and friends of friends. No one asked her to drive halfway across the country and many cities in between, clocking 7,000 kilometres, to suit up the residents of a northern community attending a climate change summit, but then Neubauer isn’t your average volunteer.
"I told people, ‘I know where your closets are, don’t make me come and look,’" she recalls.
"It was so overwhelming," she says of the response, "that when I was coming back I had to buy those vacuum seal bags and suck everything as small as I could to get everything in the car."
The New Bothwell woman would eventually collect some 1,500 outfits for the gala event, and she was flown to Igloolik, Nunavut to see everyone dressed to the nines.
It is that example of dogged determination that has made the local Helping our Northern Neighbours chapter Neubauer founded one of the most impressive fundraising initiatives—and one of the least publicized considering its scope—in an area of the province renowned for its generosity.
Neubauer, along with friends Billie Jo Hunter of New Bothwell and Christine Brenner of Winnipeg, have teamed up to supplement social programs in remote communities throughout Canada’s North. They have aided food banks, delivered winter clothing and sporting supplies, helped new mothers and assisted wherever a need arises.
Why does she do it? "Why not?" replies Neubauer, who received a 40-foot trailer from her husband as her mother’s day gift to fill with many donated goods. "The world is full of good people. If you can’t find one, be one."
She first decided to help the remote north when she read a story in 2015 of a B.C. woman, outraged by the whopping prices of groceries up north, sending food care packages to those in need. Various chapters materialized throughout the country since, including one from a New Bothwell home.
They hosted a bud and spud that year, raising more than $13,000 thanks to matching donations from Sarvaq Aviation and Arctic Co-operatives Limited, the latter the organization they work with for their most comprehensive fundraising effort: providing about 20 meat and potato hampers in Resolute Bay, Nunavut once a month.
Though they regularly make shipments, the group directs much energy to raising money. Shipping a regular-sized box of food can cost $120-$160, yet donating cash to the co-op is a better way of best utilizing their dollar, explained Billie Jo Hunter.
"If they have to go to the co-op, you’re supporting the community store and you’re supporting the people there," she said. "You’re keeping the money in the town."
To aid that campaign, Helping our Northern Neighbours is hosting a dinner and drink fundraiser in Steinbach Saturday night.
Hunter, a longtime community volunteer herself, joked her hands were tied when Neubauer asked for help handling their group’s Facebook page in early 2015.
"I don’t say no to Tereina," she says with a smile.
"I truly love volunteering," adds Hunter. "I don’t know what I’d do with my time if I wasn’t volunteering."
Donations so far have largely come from family and friends, which extends to outside provinces. Neubauer said about 40 people actively donate and another 40 individuals do so occasionally.
In addition to shipping money and items up north, a number of boxes are dropped off biweekly at the Kivalliq Inuit Centre, which some northerners use as living arrangements while in Winnipeg for medical treatments.
Neubauer is quick to point out they don’t have the answers to solving the poverty that afflicts the north, but they help out where they can—and she hopes others feel compelled to join.
"We know it’s a broken system," she said. "We can’t fix it but that’s why we like to put the money into their community and keep it in their community because that way we feel like we’re helping them twice."
The Helping our Neighbours pork on a bun fundraiser will take place Saturday, Sept. 24 at Frantz Inn in Steinbach from 6-8 p.m. To purchase tickets or to learn how to donate, contact Tereina Neubauer at 204-794-5875 or email@example.com.