Funding delay shuts Iqaluit soup kitchen

“You will see a decline in nutritional levels, and that is going to affect people’s health.”



If you’re approached a lot more often on the streets of Iqaluit this summer by people begging for spare change, John Tyrrell won’t be surprised at all.

Nor will Tyrrell, a retired Anglican minister who helps to run Iqaluit’s soup kitchen, be surprised to see an increase in petty crimes.

There will, he says, be a lot more hungry people walking the streets this summer, because the soup kitchen ran out of money and was forced to close its doors last week.

“We’re in debt and owe our food wholesaler $6,000,” Tyrrell explained.

But the chief reason the soup kitchen is shut is because of a long delay in receiving federal money, which is the agency’s main source of funding.

Iqaluit council, which apportions funds to the soup kitchen on behalf of the federal Bright Futures program, approved a grant of $59,000 on July 18, but Tyrrell said there was no way to find out when a cheque would actually be cut.

The soup kitchen served its last meal on Sunday, July 16, to about 35 people. Volunteers explained that the agency was out of funds and would be closing immediately, and also posted a notice saying much the same thing on its front door.

But the next day and on subsequent days, Tyrrell said, people continued to show up, hoping to be fed.

He expressed frustration at the process of wringing funds out of the federal bureaucracy, saying that since the soup kitchen opened five years ago, more often than not it has not received promised federal funds “until well into the fiscal year” — months after it was actually needed.

This year, the soup kitchen requested $100,000, a sum he said is close to what it actually requires to feed people seven days a week throughout the year. The $59,000 that it will eventually receive won’t come close to meeting the soup kitchen’s cost.

Tyrrell said he will have to meet with the committee that runs the kitchen to determine what the bare-bones daily cost of operating for the rest of the year will be. Once that is known and the agency actually receives federal funds, the committee will set a date for re-opening the kitchen.

Private donors contribute about $7,000 in cash to the soup kitchen, as well as supplies of food from time to time.

Tyrrell said that some people who depend on the soup kitchen may be able to scrape by for a while. Food is a bit more abundant in the summer because of hunting and fishing.

While panhandling and shoplifting may increase as people resort to desperate measures to feed themselves, he said, the closing of the soup kitchen will also take a toll on the health of Iqaluit’s poorest people.

“You will see a decline in nutritional levels, and that is going to affect people’s health,” he said.

What’s needed, the retired clergyman said, is permanent, predictable funding “to end the unacceptable delays in getting money out of the feds.”

In the past, he said, there have been occasions when funds have been held back even after being approved by city council because of additional reviews ordered by federal officials.

That uncertainty, he said, is the main reason why soup kitchen organizers are unwilling to take on more debt. “It would be irresponsible to keep spending money until the cheque is actually in hand,” he said.

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