Grief Kits Help Community Hit with Violence

Over the course of 12 hours on April 18 and 19, 2020, a gunman went on a rampage in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, killing 22 people. The quiet, rural community was devastated by the incident, and Nova Scotia Lions clubs quickly stepped up.

Lion delivers grief kits to school.
District Governor Debbie McGinley delivers grief kits to Nova Scotia school.

The Parrsboro Lions Club, which is the club closest to where the shootings took place, provided coffee and food to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RMCP) to help fuel them as they worked multiple crime scenes and participated in a manhunt, says District Governor Debbie McGinley.

But in situations like this, the real need comes after the traumatic event.

McGinley knew this from her recent training with Lions Quest – the social and emotional learning program developed by LCIF. Lions Quest was designed to help children and teens build important life skills and is based on the belief that one of the keys to the success of young people is bringing schools, families, and communities together.

McGinley’s district had recently received a grant to reintroduce Lions Quest in Nova Scotia, and she had taken the course to learn about the program when she learned about grief kits.

“After 9/11 there were a lot of children that were grieving, so they developed these grief kits that have the book, ‘Where is Robert?’ [by Christine Dernederlanden] to help them understand what happens when someone passes, and that it’s OK to have different emotions,” says McGinley.

Right away, she knew this is what her community needed. “I first called my first vice and second vice and the council secretary treasurer,” she says. “I wanted this to be a team decision, not just me.”

One of the shooting victims was a long-time teacher at the local elementary school. McGinley contacted the principal and asked if she could provide the kits. “At first he thought I was just talking about the kids that had been in her class. So he told me he would take 27 kits. ‘No,’ I said, ‘I want to provide them for the whole school.’”

He was floored and thought it was great. “He was very thankful,” says McGinley. On behalf of the district, Nova Scotia Lions provided 150 kits for school.

However, McGinley knew the scope of the impact would not be limited to the school. “It’s Nova Scotia, we know everybody,” she says. She made it known to the RCMP and, through PR and media outlets, that the kits would be available to anyone who needed them.

The day the news story aired she had more requests come in from people asking for kits. They suddenly realized they didn’t know how to talk to their kids about this. Some of them had never heard of Lions.

“We’re still the best-kept secret around,” she says. But McGinley wants to change that. “I want the people of Nova Scotia to know we’re here for them.”

In the meantime, McGinley has ordered a second set of kits in preparation for another wave of grieving. “It’s not over yet,” she says. And when it comes, Lions will be there.