Iqaluit food centre serves thrift store with eviction notice

Qajuqturvik food centre says it needs more space to expand as demand grows

Piviniit board members Anika Bychok (right) and Linda Ham (left) are trying to keep the doors open at Iqaluit’s thrift store after a “shocking” eviction notice. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

By Mélanie Ritchot

With an eviction notice on one side and a petition nearing 500 signatures on the other, an unusual conflict has broken out between two Iqaluit non-profit groups.

Qajuqturvik, the food centre that provides free meals and other programs, is in need of more space to expand its services.

So on Friday, it issued Iqaluit’s thrift shop, Piviniit, an eviction notice from the space it sublets in Qajuqturvik’s building.

With an increased demand for services during the COVID-19 pandemic and a new program slated to be announced in August, Qajuqturvik has no option but to expand, said its executive director Rachel Blais.

It asked Piviniit to vacate by Sept. 15.

Qajuqturvik currently offers free meals Monday through Friday.

On Monday, for example, over 200 people came to Qajuqturvik  for the free community meal. Pre-pandemic, Blais said it typically served between 80 and 100 people.

Rachel Blais, the executive director of Qajuqturvik, says the centre has no choice but to evict the Piviniit thrift store so it can expand to meet the community’s needs. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

A healthy food box program is also offered, so Iqaluit residents can buy a box of fresh produce at an affordable price.

Over the past year, the centre has purchased over 3,400 kg of country food, which provides the community with culturally relevant, healthy food, while creating a source of income for Nunavut harvesters.

Blais said she “absolutely” expects the high number of people using the centre’s services to continue even after  the pandemic ends.

Qajuqturvik has noticed the demand for its services goes up when government income supports go down, Blais said.

For example, when the Qikiqtani Inuit Association handed out grocery vouchers to Inuit as a COVID-19 relief support, Blais said the centre saw a drastic drop in demand for its services — since people could afford to buy groceries.

With federal supports slated to end in the fall, Blais said Qajuqturvik is anticipating even more demand.

Blais said the centre recognizes the importance of Piviniit in the community and both boards are scheduled to meet on Wednesday evening to discuss possible solutions.

“We are very interested and hopeful that we’ll be able to work cooperatively with them.”

She said the option remains for the thrift store to use the building’s outdoor space or large multi-use indoor space for rummage sales, as it already does sometimes on weekends.

The main multi-use space in Qajuqturvik is regularly used by the Piviniit thrift shop for bag sales on the weekends, and could still be used by Piviniit after its eviction, said Qajuqturvik executive director Rachel Blais. Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

But, Piviniit won’t be able to use the storefront and storage spaces it currently occupies.

If the thrift shop isn’t open to working with the food centre and is unable to find a new space or a different solution to keep running, Blais said Qajuqturvik is willing to start operating a thrift store service itself.

“Either way, we’re going to ensure the community does not lose the [thrift store] service,” she said.

“We would be open to continuing to accept donations here,” she said. “But the storage solution would have to be on their end.”

Piviniit began a petition to save its store on Friday and, as of Tuesday afternoon, about 435 people had signed in person or online.

Blais said the petition will not change the decision to evict Piviniit.

“To meet our current demands, let alone the demands we’re anticipating in the fall, unfortunately, this is the solution,” Blais said about the eviction notice.

Anika Bychok, a board member with the Piviniit Society, said the eviction notice — after 12 years subletting the space — came as a “complete shock.”

Despite Blais’s statement that the petition won’t affect the food centre’s decision, Bychok said it still shows the community doesn’t want to see Piviniit’s doors close.

Bychok said the society is exploring all avenues at this point.

Even if Piviniit finds a solution to the storage issue, it wouldn’t be the same to do pop-up style sales instead of having a physical location, Bychok said.

“The store itself feels like a community,” she said, adding that many customers come every week and have become familiar with the volunteers.

One possible solution involves storing donations in a sea can, then setting up sales outside or in the food centre on the weekend. But Bychok said that option would limit store operations to the summer months.

“Operating out of a sea can kind of works in the warmer months, but for the majority of the year, when it’s cold, we’re probably not going to be able to do anything.”

Piviniit’s thrift store opened its doors in Iqaluit in 2009. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

Bychok, who works as the volunteer coordinator for the store, said she thinks that approach would also make people less keen to volunteer.

Linda Ham, the Piviniit Society’s treasurer, said worst-case scenario, “we take everything from the store, we take all our donations and we store them in sea cans for a year or two until we can find an affordable space.”

With very few commercial spaces for rent in Iqaluit along with high rents, finding a new space is a whole other issue, she explained.

“Real estate is at a premium but this city should be big enough for the organizations that are all doing good.”

Part of Piviniit’s mandate has been to keep things from going to the landfill, and to provide affordable clothes and home goods to the community, Ham said.

Piviniit has also opened its doors to victims of fires in the city, to take what they need for free, Ham said.

The society also helps people from other communities by bringing donations to the medical boarding home in Iqaluit for them to take home, and it recently began distributing clothes to every Nunavut community.

Since 2013, when the society began turning a profit, Ham said it has donated over $80,000 to other organizations.

Without a physical space, Ham said she suspects less revenue would come in.

She said the entire situation between Qajuqturvik and Piviniit is “very unfortunate.”

“It’s really sad to see one organization kind of beating up on another.”

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(29) Comments:

  1. Posted by City Space on

    Where is Mayor Bell? I thought the city just moved offices for millions of rent and now the space above the rink is free.

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    • Posted by Buildings in town on

      It would be great if the thrift store could somehow acquire building 796, and a land owner/leaseholder who could donate the use of space for it.

      • Posted by Whose building? on

        Where is building 796 and who is the landlord? Piviniit is exploring all options to find a new space and is asking the public for help identifying potentially available buildings and their landlords.

  2. Posted by Cue-Anon on

    Hoarding donations in seacans rather than finding an alternative or letting someone else distribute? That is not a community-minded approach

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    • Posted by A concerned citizen on

      Storing donations in the face of an unexpected and immanent eviction is not hoarding. As I see it, it is a responsible response to being kicked out onto the street on extremely short notice. Unless a local business or the City steps up to provide space, where on earth can Pivinitt go? I wonder why the food centre chose to evict Pivinitt rather than open a dialogue with them? To say “you’re out in 2 months, but let’s talk anyway” may be acceptable southern business practice, but it does not conform to the principles of IQ. How very sad because the all-volunteer Pivinitt store has been making a real difference over the years in trying to alleviate the effects of poverty not just in Iqaluit but across the Territory. As an outsider, I hope the Cathedral steps in to save the thrift store. In this time of necessary reconciliation, does the Anglican Cathedral want to be complicit in destroying one of the only non-profit community led initiatives in Iqaluit?

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    • Posted by Share on

      agree. the seacan is full and the store needs a larger space and easier access to it than those many steps. move to a better place. don’t fight the “Eviction”.

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      • Posted by Legal on

        this is not bad news, as long as it is LEGAL.

        this is a good thing for Nunavut. a win-win so to speak:

        the expansion and use of space and also that the second hand store can move to a BIGGER location to serve more . especially those in wheelchairs since currently it is impossible.

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        • Posted by Where? on

          Where exactly do you think the thrift store could go? As you are likely aware, there is a serious shortage of affordable real estate in this city.

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          • Posted by Citizen on

            old men’s shelter
            old Alianait building
            check with other businesses, or
            warehouses to renovate
            ideas come when it is explored than thinking it is a half empty glass.

        • Posted by A concerned citizen on

          We are faced with an incalculable loss if the thrift store is thrown out onto the street. The thrift store’s volunteers have been given 2 months to vacate the tiny space in which they have been working wonders over the past 15 years. There simply is no other space available in Iqaluit available to accommodate a non-profit volunteer group. There are indeed empty buildings in various parts of town, but they are empty presumably for a reason. Realistically, none of these empty buildings would potentially be available within a time frame to permit the thrift store to relocate before being evicted The fact is, if the Anglican Church which owns the building does not support the thrift store, the thrift store’s volunteers will have no choice but to disband. I would like to see how Qajuqturvik intends to fill in this gap in a meaningful way once Pivinitt dissolves. Nothing they have said publically gives me any reassurance whatsoever. A net loss to all those people who have come to rely on the thrift store – and those, too, who have reached out to the volunteers in times of personal tragedy like fires. I sincerely hope that the Anglican Church continues its support of the thrift store which is one of the very few groups in the city which actually serves the public in a way that conforms to the Social Gospel preached by the Anglican Church.

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  3. Posted by Marc on

    I would love to sign the petition but don’t know where to locate it. Can somebody post? Thank you!

    I see the value in both programs but absolutely want the community store to remain open! It has such a huge contribution to the town and communities around Nunavut.

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  4. Posted by Armchair Warrior on

    Let the do-good wars begin…

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  5. Posted by Not the Qajuqturvik’s building on

    A fine point of clarification; Building 655 is not the Qajuqturvik Food Centre’s building. It is the Anglican Church’s building, leased from the Diocese of the Arctic (Yellowknife).

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    • Posted by The Saddest Fight on

      Maybe if the Church paid taxes, City could use that money to develop more mixed use space that would maybe free up other space for there to be more space for community organizations that have a real and positive impact on communities to sustainably operate and continue to serve the community.

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      • Posted by Better or Worse on

        If the Anglican Church had to pay taxes, their costs would be higher, meaning they would have to raise the rent to the store, meaning more of the store’s proceeds would go to paying rent to the Church. All just to pay taxes to the City, to do what? Give free pool passes to City staff? I suggest it is better to maintain the status quo and let the Thrift Store help the poor instead of subsidizing the latest City Hall boondoggle.

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  6. Posted by Think About It on

    Food trumps clothes. And what kind of person feels that a petition with any amount of signatures would overturn an eviction notice on a private building? Mr Mayor with the City Hall moving and other departments relocating, there must be some room somewhere in the city for these people.
    Maybe somewhere without those steep steps!

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    • Posted by Not the Qajuqturvik’s building on

      Think About It – please see the above comment. This building is owned by the Anglican Church, that leases the majority of the space to the Qajuqturvik Food Centre. It is not the Qajuqturvik Food Centre’s building.

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    • Posted by Piviniit Supporter on

      It shouldn’t come down to which is more important, food vs clothes. Piviniit and Qajuqturvik have co-existed in the same building (owned by the Anglican Church, NOT Qajuqturvik) since the building was first constructed. It is not right for the Food Centre to benefit at the expense of Piviniit when both organizations do such good work for the community. Both organizations should be allowed to stay in Building 655.

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      • Posted by Fibre on

        Qajuqturvik has already said they refused to acknowledge in any way the online petition, and that they plan to move ahead and reclaim the space from Piviniit.

        And as for people saying Food is more important the clothes. Take a look at how much money both the territorial and federal governments is spending on Iqaluit’s fibre link. Fibre is getting more funding, then everything else, per capita. An expense last slated to cost $209 million (per last updated expense Just for Iqaluit only to link up). That sure could go a long way to help the housing situation for the homeless. But no one wants to acknowledge and give up fibre to take care of the homeless.

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        • Posted by Radical Thought on

          Why not stop the deep water port development? Perhaps shut down the breakwater expansion? Hell; let’s skip the new dump until everyone has a nice warm house to call their own?
          Thanks but you can stick to carrier pigeons while the rest of us join the rest of the country and try to get some work done when the sky clouds over.

          Or maybe, just maybe, the land claims organization of the richest indigenous group in the world could throw a few bucks at housing? There’s a radical thought.

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          • Posted by Chewing the fibre on

            Said like someone who has a comfy house to sit in. Again comparing the port, a source of resources to fibre is nonsense. Can you eat the internet? Despite the fact you don’t want to hear it, internet is NOT required to sustain life. Hundreds of millions of dollars so you can complain on Nunatsiaq news about weather induced internet outages, while the homeless try and survive in unsafe shacks and tents is the ultimate form of white privilege.

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  7. Posted by Iisa on

    There are vacant old Federal Units along the Ring Road across from the Northwestel building that could be used to create outlet stores. Arts stores could really improve that eyesore. That row of vacant boarded houses minus one, could be utilized with proper planning. Thrift store for one?

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  8. Posted by bob on

    Wow, there’s always so many experts on every single news story comments section. We should form a task force that will save the world. Armchair analysts unite!

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  9. Posted by Qikiqtaalummiu on

    things have change overtime what will become of the building, but the aim is still there .assisting the public and the social sector and working sector alike. i believe we need change for this for some reasons. behind the scenes .Paying ridiculous amount of money to work load in less then daily hours and free rent and food subsidy for the people hired from other countries. This is a diverse community/city but locals are left out of the picture.See what happened to Disability working group. Thanks to the thrift store and space plus all workers has been fired or let go of no more Work as Inclusion was set aside.we need to think hard and clear what really happens during each meetings they get plus have more public being involved with the group.??

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    • Posted by Better or Worse on

      “People from other countries” are only here because employers cannot find enough Inuit to fill positions. They come here and work 3 or 4 jobs to pay rent and provide for their families both here and back home, while thousands here live with their hand outstretched for free everything.

      Why does even a story about charities bickering over space in a building, have to circle back to xenophobia and blaming others for homegrown problems?

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    • Posted by Welcome on

      “This is a diverse community/city but locals are left out of the picture”
      “Locals” are welcome to be a part of the thrift store and other volunteer groups, and they are welcome to take the initiative to start similar endeavors too of they see a need in the community or feel like the current volunteer groups aren’t doing a good job or aren’t being inclusive. The thrift store regularly puts out calls for volunteers to step up and help. Maybe some “locals” stepped up, maybe some didn’t, I have no idea. Did you?

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  10. Posted by John W Paul Murphy on

    Perhaps it’s time for the Salvation Army to be approached to help?

    They are experts when it comes to helping the needy.

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