Manitoba campaign aims to show faces behind drug overdose crisis

Click to play video: 'Campaign hopes to show faces behind overdoses'
Campaign hopes to show faces behind overdoses
One woman's vigil shows the faces behind overdose deaths. Anya Nazeravich has more. – Aug 9, 2021

Fifty faces cover Janis Gillam’s fence.

The photos are surrounded by butterflies, purple ribbons and facts about overdose deaths in Manitoba.

“People are shocked, people are crying at the fence, people tell their stories to us,” Gillam said.

Two photos in the center of the fence are of Gillam’s children. Her daughter and step-son both died of drug overdoses in 2020 — two of the 372 Manitobans who died due to overdose that year, according to Overdose Awareness Manitoba (OAM).

Gillam has made it her mission to help others going through the same struggle. While the photos on her fence will only be up until International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) on Aug. 31, she has other ways to honour her children year-round.

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A yellow community library sits in her front yard with a gold plaque at the peak of the roof in memory of her kids.

“Both of our children each had two small children and they loved books so we decided, let’s make [a library],” Gillam said.

In the meantime, Gillam said she speaks with people who stop at her fence any time she is outside. If the vigil does anything, Gillam hopes it helps people realize the crisis can affect anyone.

“It is people from all different walks of life,” Gillam said. “We want people to know that these people were loved, and they’re missed by everyone.”

Overdose Awareness Manitoba’s Purple Ribbon Campaign runs throughout the month of August, but the colour purple is sprinkled elsewhere in Gillam’s yard.

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For loved ones who have lost someone due to overdose, Gillam has “the empty chair.” A purple chair covered in lights where anyone can go and sit in silence to think, remember and chat with Gillam if they feel up to it.

Rebecca Rummery, co-founder of OAM, said vigils like the one at Gillam’s are located in 12 places across Manitoba.

Rummery said the goal of the Purple Ribbon Campaign, currently in its fourth year, is to bring awareness to a topic still encompassed in stigma.

“It’s really just putting a face behind the crisis to show that it does affect everyone,” Rummery said.

The organization will host an outdoor event at the Manitoba Legislative Building on Aug. 31 in honour of IOAD.

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