Community members from Fort Albany, Attawapiskat and Peawanuck endured 30 hours of hunger pangs to raise money for a Fort Albany family in need of funds.
Called the No Food for 30 Fundraiser, the communities raised more than $30,000 in pledges for Courtney Koostachin and her family, who are in Toronto awaiting a liver transplant.
Courtney is battling for her life as she awaits a donor for the transplant.
Koostachin recovered from three liver transplants before the age of five. At the time, doctors informed her parents that her body might reject the liver before she turned 10.
At 17 now, after living a full life well beyond doctors’ predictions, the teenager’s liver is failing, requiring yet another transplant.
She awaits a donor at the Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, with her parents Alexandra and Daniel Koostachin at her side. In order to be with Courtney, they are living at Ronald McDonald House in Toronto, and funds are tight as the couple had to leave their jobs to care for their daughter. They have been in Toronto since June.
“I know it’s hard for a family to go out and come back, with the financial burdens,” Brent Edwards of Fort Albany said. “So me, Rex and Mike (Knapaysweet) were sitting around in my office thinking of ways to alleviate that burden.”
The usual avenues – radio bingos, penny and bake sales – are good but don’t make much money, Edwards said.
“We wanted to do something different, and that’s how we came up with the idea for a 30-hour famine.”
They put up a sign-up sheet in September and the next month they had 18 people signed up to take part in the fast. Leading up to the famine, the participants went out and got pledges from community members and wrote letters to organizations.
Once things got rolling, the organizers thought of expanding their initiative.
“We thought, ‘Why don’t we challenge Attawapiskat?’ Because her dad is from there.”
They contacted Dennis and Andrew Koostachin, “and they were like ‘Yeah, we accept,’” Edwards said.
To prepare for the fast, Edwards said he consulted the Internet and local health care experts.
“They said (before the fast) to load up on carbs and protein.”
At the start of the fast, they prayed for Courtney and to give them strength for the famine. They were allowed to drink water. They began at noon on Nov. 4.
The Fort Albany team initially projected raising $4,000, but they surpassed that amount early on.
Participant Shawna Nakogee said if they raise more than $8,000, she would shave her head.
Around 4 p.m. on Friday, the fasters received the biggest donation: Mushkegowuk Council would be donating $2,000.
“I stopped, turned around and told (the fasters), and the whole place just erupted into chaos. We were like, holy cow!” Edwards said.
It also put them over the $8,000 mark.
Edwards said the worst part of the fast was a half-hour before the end.
“We were going to have a feast once it was over and volunteers started bringing in food, and we were like ‘Nooooo,’” Edwards said. “Our senses just exploded, and we started sniffing the food. I personally had to leave the kitchen area and go outside.”
In the end, Fort Albany raised more than $11,000 while Attawapiskat raised more than $18,000 and Peawanuck raised $1300.
Upon hearing the numbers, Edwards said he was surprised.
“I kind of got emotional and I was speechless. I was so happy for that family.”
The proudest moment for Edwards came when they talked to Courtney over Skype.
“She came on, and was like ‘Hi, you guys.’ Then she looked at the camera and said, ‘I’m not going to give up.’
“For me, that capped everything. For her to see us there through the video camera, they were standing and clapping for her. I think she feels more confident now.”
Edwards said there are many people to thank for helping in the fundraiser.
“There are so many people I want to thank. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank Rex and Mike Knapsaysweet, Sky and Geegee for organizing the potluck, Mushkegowuk, Attawapiskat and Dennis Koostachin, and Isaac Bird in Peawanuck for organizing things there. You guys are amazing. And of course the pledgers.”
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