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

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.

David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News