500 people in Iqaluit go without daily meal as food centre deals with burst pipes

‘This is a worst-case scenario nightmare,’ says executive director

Rachel Blais, Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre’s executive director, says the building’s burst pipes leave hundreds of people per day without a meal. (Photo by David Venn)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Toilets, tomatoes and onions froze in the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre over the Feb. 25 weekend, a water pump exploded, a washing machine and dishwasher were destroyed and employees say they have yet to discover all the damage.

And in turn, Qajuqturvik’s executive director Rachel Blais is left wondering how 500 meals every day will get into the hands of the people the food centre serves.

Insurance companies for the Anglican Church, which owns the building, and Uqsuq Corp., which is in charge of delivering fuel for the centre’s furnace, are in the process of assessing the damage — and working out who’s paying.

“This is a worst-case scenario nightmare that would keep me up at night, of: ‘What if that happened?’” Blais said in an interview.

She discovered the extensive damage when she came into work on Monday. Plumbers restored the water for a moment on Tuesday, then several new leaks occurred and the water had to be shut off again.

Two plumbers work on freeing up Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre’s waterlines Thursday afternoon. (Photo by David Venn)

Since then, plumbers have been in and out of the centre trying to clear the water main, but are also getting called to other emergencies.

Late Thursday morning, there were about four staff looking over the fresh produce box program, which is able to run only because the church is allowing the centre’s employees to use its bathrooms. Qajuqturvik’s bathrooms have cracked urinals and sinks.

The centre has had to suspend its cooking classes and lunch, typically held daily from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and its country food program, because it can’t butcher on site without water.

Water leaks in the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre’s crawlspace, next to a water main. (Photo by David Venn)

Blais said the centre sees nearly 500 people each day for lunch — a number that has grown recently and includes more families and children than before.

“When such a significant portion of your population is reliant on these very fragile non-profits and charities to provide something so basic … that leaves communities so vulnerable,” Blais said.

She doesn’t have answers for her staff or for community members, some of whom are still coming to the door for lunch.

They’re simply turned away by an employee or a sign on the door that reads: “No meal today. Frozen Pipes.”

Blais said the water trouble is exposing the territorial and federal government’s failure to address poverty and properly fund charities.

For example, income assistance in Nunavut is among the lowest in the country, she said, with an individual receiving an average of $680 per month. This is not adjusted to inflation, either.

A sign taped to the inside door of the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre reads “No meal today. Frozen Pipes.” (Photo by David Venn)

Another area that could be improved, said Blais, is basing the Canada Child Benefit on cost of living, because people who live down south get the same stipend as Nunavummiut.

“The government cannot rely on charities to provide essential services like food and shelter to such a large portion of the population,” she said.

“Because this is going to impact the health and well-being of hundreds of people.”

As it stands, the food centre is looking for a temporary space to operate, because every week that goes by will see 2,500 fewer meals distributed to those who need it most.

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(15) Comments:

  1. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    In the past, any Contractor that has a Customer on “Autofill” for fuel that have had their building run out of fuel the Contractor had to pay.

    Now, it’s a given that any landlord, homeowner, tenant or anyone should ensure their fuel tank has sufficient amount of fuel and not take for granted they brought the fuel. by no means should Uqsuq be let off the hook, but they should contact PPD Headquarters for advice.

    sucks that Uqsuq is claiming tankers being late from 2 months ago is still affecting their operations. if they were that far behind, they should have had multiple trucks working until 8 or 9 pm for a few weeks trying to catch up.

  2. Posted by Frizzo on

    When I, as a customer, am on autofill and I see the truck filling up my tank, I should feel safe that they have indeed filled it to the top. Especially since that’s how they’ve always done business. Because they are behind, they haven’t actually been filling all the tanks to the top, and they haven’t left a notice or anything to make sure we’re aware of that. And yes, Uqsuq said there would be delays, but that was in December and it is now March. If the cold weather has made it hard for them to get caught up almost 3 months later, then make that abundantly clear to everyone.

  3. Posted by Colin on

    The people running the place should see there’s a fuel gauge on the tank, check it occasionally after a fill to see it works and then check it from time time and especially before an expected cold weekend or a storm. There’s a duty to protect against foreseeable risks and to do something about them. Duh!

    • Posted by Really? on

      Uqsuq has a responsibility, and should be held responsible… This is an ongoing issue and not just a one off incident, they have been missing fuel deliveries and letting customers run dry regularly. For example, our apartment building has run out of fuel over 28 times since January, and I mean completely run out and needed a maintenance person to call in an emergency fill up. This is a large commercial and apartment building downtown! I am aware off this being an issue with many people I speak with, and I am unsure how checking from time to time would fix the ongoing issue of fuel regularly not being delivered when it should be.

  4. Posted by iThink on

    I think giving out free meals makes people expect everything to be free maybe if not they would work for it instead just a thought

    • Posted by The real iThink on

      Just to be very clear, this is not the commentor who usually posts under the name iThink. That is me and I would never make a comment like this. A food bank is an essential part of a community and should be supported. This comment is very ignorant

  5. Posted by Maintenance on

    Long term impact needs to be reduced with a quick resuming to the meals service. A set of low temperature warning lights outside on a temperature activated switch inside could have and should have been installed.

  6. Posted by Tired on

    Six calls since November because we woke up with no heat or hot water.

    Six. Times.

  7. Posted by 180 on

    I have witnessed many people going into the Food Bank that shouldn’t need to use it, some are GN workers and have jobs that pay well. Perhaps people are taking advantage of the system to save money for other activities.

    • Posted by 867 on

      It’s true some people spend all their paycheck on their habits then realize they have no money left for food so they ask on Facebook or go to food bank not because they need to but because they have horrible budgeting skills. Some of these people even have 100,000$ per year jobs and even ask to borrow money sometimes

    • Posted by alex on

      There is a lot of reasons why someone might be going to the food bank. Maybe they are gathering for someone else. Why are you people judging? Its pretty crappy that people assume that they must of blown their paycheques for them to access the food bank.Get a grip…especially in the housing crisis nunavut is in.

  8. Posted by Upper Class Food Bank on

    Iqaluit used to have an upper class Food Bank. It was called the Qikiqtanni General Hospital cafeteria.
    The hospital subsidized meals there as a way to help retain staff. Roast beef dinners were on the menu almost every night. A 3/4 inch slab of roast beef, plus vegetables, sold for about $15.00.
    Then most of the lawyers in Iqaluit started eating there most nights.
    After a while the hospital fired the chef and started serving airline food for supper. The lawyers stopped eating there. The hospital staff stopped eating there. Now we have a shortage of health care workers. But some bean counter saved the GN a couple hundred dollars per day.

    • Posted by Chimp on

      What a bunch exaggerated half-truths. That is not what goes on at the hospital cafeteria. I’ve worked at the hospital for nearly 15 years.

      • Posted by In Reality on

        Welcome to the Nunatsiaq News, where half truths and exaggerations make up both the news and the comments.

      • Posted by Curious George on

        Dear Chimp.
        Don’t leave us in suspense like that. Please tell us which half is true, and what really goes on, or went on, at the hospital. Curious minds really want to know.


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