Arviat stores deal with getting food to customers in Nunavut’s COVID-19 hotspot

Nunavut government wants “to make sure no one goes hungry and not left out in the cold in terms of having food”

Five new COVID-19 cases were reported in Arviat Saturday, but Nunavut’s total number of cases declined as the government said a total of 33 people have recovered. (File photo)

By Jane George

Grocery stores in Arviat, which has more than 100 cases of COVID-19, say they want to help residents get the food they need and, at the same time, respect the public health advice to stay home.

Many households are under strict isolation orders and everyone, whether or not they are living with COVID-19, has to observe the stay-at-home recommendations of the two-week territorial lockdown, which is still in effect.

Stores in the hard-hit Kivalliq community of about 3,000 are asking for pre-payment to deliver groceries. But some people are having trouble making these payments because they may not have a credit card, a bank account, a store account or money on hand.

At the Government of Nunavut news conference on COVID-19 held on Monday, Nov. 23, Premier Joe Savikataaq, who is also the MLA for Arviat South, said “we are working on that, to make sure no one goes hungry and not left out in the cold in terms of having food.”

Representatives of stores in the community have since told Nunatsiaq News that they are also working on coming up with ways to ensure that everyone can shop for food without leaving their homes.

The Padlei co-op store accepts credit card payment and allows members whose store accounts are in good standing to charge goods to those accounts, said Duane Wilson, vice-president of stakeholder relations at Arctic Co-operatives Ltd.

At the store, a delivery service is available with a $50 minimum purchase from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, with a possible wait time of 24 hours for delivery. Customers can place an order by phone or online.

When an order has been placed online, the co-op calls before processing payment for approval. A driver drops off the food at the door and knocks, so there is no physical contact with the driver, Wilson said.

Michael Beaulieu, the vice-president for Canadian store operations at the Northwest Co., said that in Arviat the Northern store team has been picking and delivering orders to elders and anyone who is in isolation.

“The majority of customers have either a credit account at the Northern store or a We Visa prepaid credit card,” he said.

For those without a store credit account or any type of credit card, he said that two other options have been successfully used in other stores.

The first allows family or friends of anyone self-isolating to go to the Northern store to drop off cash to make a payment on a credit account, pay into a We Visa prepaid credit card or make a cash payment at the cash register.

The order can still be delivered if required.

The second option allows anyone who is self-isolating and has a bank account, but does not have a credit card, to arrange to send a money transfer to a store manager.

The store manager will then make the payment on behalf of a customer who has placed a phone or online order.

“If anyone finds themselves needing special assistance, please contact a member of our store team. We’re here to help,” Beaulieu said.

The Arctic Connection store in Arviat aims to be a “contactless store,” until the COVID-19 outbreak ends. (File photo)

The privately owned Arctic Connection store, which carries a variety of groceries and other supplies, has closed down for a minimum of two weeks.

“Most likely will be longer,” said manager Amber Ramsay.

“We will be running a ‘contactless store.’ We figure this way we can do our part by helping stop the spread of the virus, avoid people coming to shop, keeping people home for the time being and trying our best to keep the whole community safe.”

Ramsay said her parents, who also own and help manage the store, plan to accept all delivery orders by telephone or email and get them prepared and ready for customers.

“We have a couple delivery people that will be picking up orders throughout the day from the store and will be delivering to people’s doorsteps,” she said.

As for payment, she said they are still in the process of deciding which payment methods would work best.

“From the looks of it as of right now, we will be accepting EMT [email money transfer], Visa and cash,” Ramsay said. “We will be accepting cash and ask for people to give the exact amount of cash and have it in an envelope or bag outside where it is secure and accessible for us to grab. Our delivery people will have gloves on and we will we have no contact with any of our customers.”

Meanwhile, Savikataaq said that the Family Services Department is working to ensure households on income support will be able to get the money they need for food without leaving home.

He said the GN wants “to see how we can get around this, not only just delivering food, but people on income support can get their evaluations done through the phone.”

Emergency food has also been sent to Arviat.

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