Kinsmen Club helping kids stay warm with annual toque and mitten program despite COVID-19 funding challenges

The program that started with one school is now providing warm winter gear to five schools

Riverside principal Leanne Tretiak and Kinsmen Club member and chair for the mitts and toque program, Jared Devers, hold up presents for students (submitted photo).

The Prince Albert Kinsmen Club is continuing a special tradition that began four years ago when the organization donated mitts and toques to students at Riverside Public School.

In line with their motto “serve the community’s greatest need”, the club donates warm winter gear to schools across the city.

Four years ago, guidance counsellors and social workers suggested mitts and toques would be a suitable gift for the students. The winter gear is wrapped and each students gets the chance to open a present.

The program has since grown to serve two public schools and three Catholic schools, Jared Devers, chairperson of the program said. This year that amounted to 548 students unwrapping presents.

The presents go out to younger students from pre-kindergarten up to Grade 3.

“It always feels great to help anybody out this time of year,” Devers said in an interview with the Herald.

The program gets its funding from multiple events hosted by the Prince Albert Kinsmen Club. With COVID-19, most of those events didn’t happen this year so the Saskatoon Kinsmen Club stepped up to help pay for supplies.

Kinsmen Club gets a deal on the winter gear, which comes from Canadian-owned company Hot Paws. Prince Albert Canadian Tire also gave them a deal on wrapping paper and Jays Transport donated boxes this year to help with present delivery.

Normally club members would go out to schools and hand out presents to the students, but had to hold off this year due to schools being closed to the public. Presents were isolated in the boxes for a minimum of 72 hours to mitigate any risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Devers said while the community needs’ changes year to year, helping children stay warm in the winter is always a priority for the Kinsmen Club.

“We’re able to help them out a little bit of the way and hopefully give them a little bit of a smile on their face at the same time,” Devers said.

Kids ‘excited’ to open presents

Kim Jones, vice principal at Westview Public School said students were ecstatic to open the presents on Monday.

“It’s fantastic, it great for the kids. We always have kids that can use some nice winter gear like toques and mitts and scarves and neck warmers,” Jones said. “The other nice thing is it’s great for the kids to see people doing something for others to make the world a better place, and to show the Christmas spirit.”

Jones added that kids often lose mitts and toques so it’s good to have extra ones donated.

The Kinsmen also returned this year to the school where it all started. A total of 13 classes at Riverside public school received gifts wrapped from the Kinsmen.

Principal Leanne Tretiak said kids were excited and surprised to see her walk in with the boxes of presents on Monday.

Students from many schools, including Riverside come from hard-working families who do their best but sometimes don’t have enough money to go around, Tretiak said. She added that the club’s donation has really helped with that.

“It helps to alleviate some of the pressure that our families have. Especially during this year with COVID and people having to take time off from work or not being able to work. This is just something extra that really, really helps our families,” Tretiak said.

St. Catherine school, St. Michael school, and St. John school also received gift-wrapped winter gear.

Superintendent Robert Tessier praised the principals and staff who help with the program and make sure students receive their presents.

He added that the partnership with Kinsmen means a lot to him.

“As a school division any time that we can have some partnerships where an organization wants to give to the kids, (and) give to the community of Prince Albert here, if were involved in that process and facilitating it goes with what we want to do. They are recognizing the need of our students and it helps us to address those needs whenever we have a positive partnership with a group like the Kinsmen.”