Nunavut group’s struggle with food insecurity isn’t easy

Rankin Inlet food bank sees an increase in users so far in 2015


Ikurraq or the Deacon’s Cupboard operates a food bank and used clothing store out of the Holy Comforter Anglican Church in Rankin Inlet. (PHOTO BY NOEL KALUDJAK)

Ikurraq or the Deacon’s Cupboard operates a food bank and used clothing store out of the Holy Comforter Anglican Church in Rankin Inlet. (PHOTO BY NOEL KALUDJAK)

For all the heart and hard work that a small team of volunteers put into running Rankin Inlet’s small food bank, it’s not always easy.

Every Wednesday night, families line up in the cold and cramped hallway of the Anglican church building corridor to wait for a box of food.

In the frigid January cold, families wait while volunteers measure out bags of flour and sugar.

The package offers two breakfasts, two lunches and one supper — enough to carry them until Friday’s pay cheque or until income support arrives.

“It’s not always a pleasant experience,” said Mary Fredlund, a volunteer with Ikurraq, or the Deacon’s Cupboard, since its beginnings in the mid-1990s. “But if they need it, they’ll come.”

Ikurraq, which translates to “a step up” in Inuktitut, also operates a second-hand store on Saturday afternoon, the proceeds of which go to purchase supplies for its food bank.

“So we’re really taking stuff donated from the community and we re-sell it for a small price,” she said. “We take pride in that — people are kind of helping themselves.”

Fredlund said that’s still not enough to keep the centre running; Ikurraq relies on company sponsorships and donated supplies, and operates as often as its small volunteer base allows.

But she said the group is seeing a bump in users so far in 2015.

While Fredlund counts about 30 families who access the food bank at least once a month, last week Ikurraq handed out packages to 25 families in one night.

‘We’ve seen a real increase since Christmas,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s because there’s been a lot of talk about food banks.”

Without doubt, there’s been a recent focus on food security issues in Nunavut. “That APTN program caused a stir,” Fredlund said, referring to a news program that looked at Rankin Inlet residents scavenging for food at the community’s dump.

There’s also growing interest in poverty in Nunavut with the growth of the Helping Our Northern Neighbours movement in southern Canada, where communities are sponsoring Nunavummiut families and shipping them boxes of food.

That attention has been a boon to Fredlund’s work. Ikurraq has received a number of food donations in recent months, some through members of the Helping Our Northern Neighbours group.

Another British Columbia-based chapter is interested in sponsoring the food bank on a more regular basis.

“We had one person send us three boxes of food, which lasted about a week,” she said. “Obviously we need the food, but that’s really not the solution to the problem. Though we really appreciate it.”

For southern groups who want to send food north, Fredlund thinks it would likely benefit the greatest number of Nunavummiut if it’s directed to food banks.

But she fears the movement will tire, and looks toward more permanent forms of funding and support.

Fredlund’s dream: to run a soup kitchen in Rankin Inlet, which would serve warm meals to low-income residents. She’d also love to be able to hand out country food through the food bank.

“We provide canned meat, but I’d love to give people a chunk of caribou or muktuk,” Fredlund said. “They’re low-income, and they’re often walking over here because they don’t own a snowmobile or car. So their source of country food is really limited.”

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