Event Planners: You can’t eat a T-shirt

When planning events, especially in small and northern communities, it’s no secret most of us are almost always working with limited resources. We don’t have large budgets and it’s necessary to stretch our dollars, improvise and make do with what we have.

I think of trade shows and conferences where governments, companies and organizations spend huge amounts of money handing out heaps of usually useless swag like it was candy.

I also think about pink shirt days for anti-bullying, orange shirt days for residential school awareness and all the other events that take place over the course of a year. Many of these inspiring events are memorable moments for those taking part.

Many of these events hand out t-shirts.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with giving participants a t-shirt. If you’ve got the budget, that’s terrific! Most event organizers will say there’s no better way to score excellent group photos to promote your event or cause into the future. They’re great gifts for everyone to celebrate and remember a positive experience. They can be relatively inexpensive to purchase and easy to produce.

But you can’t eat a t-shirt.

Spend any meaningful amount of time in the North and you’ll see hunger. It can be noticeably out in the open, but it’s also hidden and often harder to see. A key factor in bullying and low attendance at school can be linked to food insecurity. Kids who are going to school hungry can’t be expected to be emotionally engaged for learning. And it’s not just kids. Adults struggle too.

Too often people organizing events, especially folks from the south, focus more on optics than experience. So much effort goes into creating an awesome experience. Unfortunately, many don’t consider how it’s all supposed to translate into a positive experience for a kid or youth taking part on an empty stomach. If you live in the north, you’ve seen it. If you haven’t, it’s something you need to think about.

The good memories and sense of belonging that comes from the experience of creating something together as a group will last a lot longer than a t-shirt.

If you have the money to buy t-shirts for your next event, consider re-directing some of that funding towards food. It might be the only meal some of your participants have that day.

You can’t eat a T-shirt.

Here’s a few quick tips for your next event:

Parents and community volunteers

In most communities, it’s usually not hard to find willing community members and parents to volunteer. When people volunteer to bake and cook for you thank them profusely and buy extra ingredients. This way they can prepare the food for your event, but will also have ingredients left over so they can bake or cook for their families at home later.

Hire a young hunter

Many Indigenous communities, especially in the north have a lot of young people who can be hired to hunt for country food. By hiring a local hunter, especially a youth, you’re supporting meaningful employment and the promotion of traditional skills. Remember hunting costs money. Gas, bullets and the time required to go out are important. Talk to your local hamlet or community council for recommendations and to find out a fair rate.

Food is belonging

One of the best ways to make your event awesome is to consolidate preparation and cooking into the experience. Cooking together, if you have the facilities, is absolutely one of the best opportunities to bring everyone together.

The good memories and sense of belonging that comes from the experience of creating something together as a group will last a lot longer than a t-shirt.

Global Dignity Day 2015 in Arviat, Nunavut.


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