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Jays Care Foundation steps up to the plate to provide food funding for AOK families

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Mandy McGraw will hold a draw to determine which Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation families receive food gift cards provided with funding from the Jays Care Foundation. – Photo supplied

By Sam Laskaris

AUNDECK OMNI KANING FIRST NATION – Some Anishinabek families on Manitoulin Island are getting some help this year with their food expenses from the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Major League Baseball squad announced that it was investing more than $300,000 this year through its charitable arm, the Jays Care Foundation, to assist with food insecurity in 21 Indigenous communities across the country.

One of the funding recipients is Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK) First Nation on Manitoulin Island.

Mandy McGraw, the manager of AOK’s community centre, the Four Directions Complex, said the First Nation has received $5,000 in funding from the Jays Care Foundation.

That money will be utilized to buy 20 gifts cards for families in the community. McGraw said families that have four to five children will be eligible for a $250 gift card, and families with two to three children can receive a gift card worth $150.

“We have a lot of families that are struggling this year, especially with inflation,” McGraw said.

McGraw anticipates more than 20 AOK families will apply to receive one of the gift cards. A random draw will be held to determine who gets the cards.

“Unfortunately, we do have to go with the luck of the draw,” McGraw said, adding that AOK had requested more in its funding application; however, received less. “We were okay with that… we were happy to get anything. Any extra help is fine.”

This marks the third straight year that the Jays Care Foundation has provided about $300,000 to assist Indigenous communities or organizations with food security expenses.

About 17,000 Indigenous people are expected to benefit from this year’s funding.

“Everybody is doing something a little bit different,” said Julia Ursini, the project manager for the Jays Care Foundation.

Some of the funding recipients, like AOK First Nation, are focusing on short-term initiatives. Other short-term projects include communities providing holiday food hampers or school food programs.

Meanwhile, some longer-term projects include setting up community food banks or greenhouses, with the aim to provide sustainable food initiatives.

AOK is one of seven First Nations in Ontario or groups to receive funding this year. In order to be eligible to apply for the food grants, communities or groups must also be involved with the Jays Care Foundation’s Indigenous Rookie League.

The foundation provides funding for Indigenous communities to start up and operate their own baseball leagues.

During the 2023 season, which ran from June until September, AOK had about 50 participants in its Indigenous Rookie League.

The league had started with a grouping for players between the ages of 6-9. This year, however, it expanded an also featured a division for those 10-15.

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