Northern men’s group supporting community through pandemic

The men of the north group. Submitted photo.

The Men of the North support group has been making headlines the past few months since its conception in January of this year. First for being the only support group just for men, then for helping out northern residents during the pandemic in delivering groceries and medicine to vulnerable/at-risk people, and now because they have received a small portion of funding that Cameco is offering.

Not only has the group been offering support and delivery of essential items, the group had put on a weekly Northern Photo and Art contest for youth. Unfortunately, the photo and art contest has been out on hold as the prizes were coming out of pocket and the cost was becoming a bit too much to keep up with. But the group hopes that the hold is temporary until they can get funding or donations.

However, Men of the North continues with the delivery of food and other essential items.

“The funding is to support the community with food hampers, cleaning supplies, and recreational activities,” said Christopher Merasty, founder of Men of the North

Merasty put in a request for $35,000. He received $5,000, which he described as “awesome.

“It was more than I was even thinking. I was thinking we weren’t even going to get anything, but we got 5 grand out of it. So, we decided we’ll just do the recreational activities for the youth in our community.”

There are many people who don’t have gaming consoles, cable TV, or even internet. So, being stuck at home is even more boring than it is for those who have nice gadgets and other things to keep occupied. Especially for children who rely on playing with others for fun. If you remember being a kid, boredom is simply the worst thing, next to homework, which a lot of children also don’t have. And feelings of boredom can sometimes lead to loneliness which can then lead to feelings of depression, and that’s unfortunately already a problem that the north has been dealing with.

“We went out a couple weekends ago… and we got board games for families, puzzles, art supplies, activity books, backyard activities like lawn bowling, lawn darts, beanbag toss, horseshoes, stuff that families can do in their backyard.” Merasty said. 

“As well as, things like for the kids, like sidewalk chalk, bubbles, hula hoops, skipping ropes, basketballs, footballs, water guns, water balloons. So, just a whole bunch of different outdoor and indoor activities.”

For anyone who grew up before the age of the internet, these sound like regular toys that most children would have been playing with, but we’re in a new, digital age that some people just can’t afford to keep up with. It’s easy to imagine the parents being just as, if not more happy than the children receiving these gifts, as any help is appreciated for those in need. 

Also, family activities can encourage family bonding, which can strengthen their relationships.

Unfortunately, the art and photo contest did not receive any funding and is temporarily on hold until it does.

“It was supposed to be sponsored through us,” Merasty said.

 “So, we applied for funding, the funding didn’t come through and we applied again and then the funding didn’t come through. It was just basically the admin sitting on that photo and art contest board were donating out of their own pockets, which was getting to be a little costly, doing it once a week and taking it out of our own pockets to pay the winners.. So we thought, “we’ll just put it on hold for now, just until we get some funding.’”

The photo and art contest had started up in April and was put on a temporary hiatus in late May. There was a different theme for each week through art and photography, such as window art, snow sculptures, sidewalk painting and so on. The youth would take a photo of their creation and send it to the Men of the North group. 

The group has been helping elders and the youth and are now getting back to supporting each other by holding their weekly meetings online. 

“We are getting back into the meetings through Zoom.” Merasty said. “We started this past Sunday, was our first meeting, which turned out really good. We had, I believe 11 in attendance and a lot of them were just happy to be back, happy to be there connecting with other men and offering suggestions and ideas.”

As previously reported, society tends to tell men that they are essentially not allowed to show emotion and if they do they’re labelled as ‘weak’, so it’s easy to see that these men are happy to have their support system back, especially now that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and many people are out of work. Lack of a job can leave some men feeling like they’re worthless, which just adds fuel to the fire.

Merasty also wants to offer support to this year’s high school graduates, whose graduation ceremony, like pretty much every other high school, has been put off for the time being.

 “We’re going to have another meeting coming up here, this Sunday and, which we’re strongly encouraging the class of 2020 to attend this meeting. Just ‘cause with this whole pandemic situation, the ceremony, the afterparties and all that are kind of gonna be put on hold… so a lot of them, they might be upset or struggling. Either mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually with this whole pandemic situation. We’re putting the call out and asking them to come and sit down, even id it’s just to listen in or even share their ideas and give that strength to somebody who might need it out there.”

The group is keeping very busy with the delivering of food, recreational toys, weekly meetings, and if there does happen to be an outbreak in La Ronge, they have been contacted by the Saskatchewan Health Authority to provide security at Drifter’s Motel, which is where people will be able to isolate if they have nowhere else to go.

“They (SHA) want to see if we can help them out and be like, security watch for them,” Merasty says. 

“Just to ensure that the people in there that are isolated, they ain’t coming in and out and wandering around the community and all that type of stuff. And if they do, then we have phone numbers to contact with the RCMP department and then they’ll get involved and there could be consequences for those people that are supposed to be isolated.”

People who are ordered to isolate and break that order might end up with a fine, though the details aren’t set in stone just yet.

“It’s just putting more and more people at risk if you’re breaking that order,” said Merasty. 

“You’re going out and infecting more and more people and creating more of an outbreak. So, it’s not a good idea.”

The community and surrounding area of La Ronge are showing great concern and helping their residents, as was proven by a petition that was almost immediately created after the town council voted to be exempt from the travel ban, which prompted another vote to rescind the exemption. 

Then, there’s the Men of the North group creating things for youth to do to just keep them occupied, helping the vulnerable residents, and possibly doing security should there be an outbreak.

Anyone who is interested in joining the support group online is welcome, whether you live in La Ronge or not. Men of the North can be found on Facebook under their group name and can be reached anytime. 

They might take a day or so to reply to a message but do get back to everyone.