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Toy drive created in honour of Winnipeg mother, baby killed in crash

Christmas is about to get a lot brighter for some kids in need, thanks to a donation drive in honour of a mother and her baby who were tragically killed in a car crash earlier this year.

“This is something Jenny would have done anyway. She was always giving. She’s very generous. She always wanted to make sure that nobody went without,” said Candy Volk.

Her daughter, Jennifer Dethmers, 30, was killed in September when a pickup truck in Winnipeg’s William Whyte neighbourhood hit the van she was in.

Police said the truck was involved in a routine traffic stop nearby when it took off speeding, and within minutes crashed with the van. 

Dethmers’s son, AJ, was in the back seat of the van with her. He was injured in the crash and died in October.

Volk said her family held a celebration for AJ, who would have turned one on Thursday, at Brookside Cemetery, where they sang Happy Birthday and brought cake and gifts.

“We want to remember and honour them in a good way. We don’t want to focus on how they died. We want to focus on how they lived and who Jenny was.”

Jennifer Dethmers, 30, is being remembered by her family as someone who was generous and ‘wanted to make sure that nobody went without,’ says her mother. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

That’s why the family has started a donation drive on Facebook to collect toys, food and hygiene items for kids in need.

Volk said she’s been overwhelmed with the generosity of Winnipeggers, who have so far donated enough toys for 30-40 kids.

“The Winnipeg police even dropped off a donation,” she said adding she didn’t expect the sudden generosity that came after a few posts on Facebook about a month ago.

Dethmers’s cousin Jessica Bird is collecting the donations at her Furby Street home, and said the goal is to give shoeboxes filled with toys, socks, and hygiene items to 100 kids up to age 17 in the city’s North End and West End neighbourhoods.

“It’s very emotional … to have complete strangers reach out to us and want to help us,” said Bird. 

“I find it very spiritually healing for me, because it just shows that there are people out there that have kind hearts and are wanting to help.… It’s just amazing. I’m completely mind-blown so far.”   

Jessica Bird, Jennifer Dethmers’s cousin, is collecting donations at her home. She says she’s been moved by the generosity of strangers. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Bird and Volk said they hope the donation drive will become an annual event. Anyone who wants to help can send a message to their Facebook event, which is called “Christmas Shoebox Drive in Honour of Jennifer and AJ Dethmers.”

The family is asking for donations of small toys, toiletries, hats, mitts and scarves, and said there’s a need for shoeboxes as well. 

Bird said people in need of a donation box will need to provide a medical card showing their child is listed on it, and the donations will be dropped off before Christmas, with COVID-19 physical distancing respected. 

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