Fuel outage causes major damage to Iqaluit food bank, cancelling daily meals
The Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre in Iqaluit has had to stop serving its daily meal and cancel all its programming due to massive damage to the facility.
Rachel Blais, the executive director of the food bank, said the building ran out of fuel on the weekend when no one was there. The resulting freeze-up burst dozens of pipes and broke the industrial dishwasher, washing machine and faucets. It also cracked the water pump, toilets and sinks.
"This is like [a] worst-case scenario nightmare that keeps me up at night, that has actually unfortunately happened," Blais said.
The food bank's community meal, offered five days a week, typically feeds about 450 to 500 people a day in the city of about 8,000 people. The food bank has now shifted to distributing hampers, with some going out Wednesday and more planned for Friday, and is searching for a secondary location to cook at.
"We're not able to cook here. We don't have bathrooms, we don't have running water," said Blais, adding the water main and sewer line are still frozen solid.
"We had plumbers here working really hard for the last two days, trying to restore some water to the building, and they were unable to do so."
Fuel tank ran dry
Blais said the food bank has been on an auto-fill program for its fuel tanks for years without any issue. Now, she said she's been hearing from other people as well that they've run out of fuel before their tanks could be filled.
"It seems to be something that is happening to many people and organizations across town," she said.
Peter Mackey, the general manager of Uqsuq Corporation, said in an email that two tankers arrived late in December, and the company had to stop deliveries until the tankers were offloaded.
He confirmed some customers have run out of fuel, in part because recent cold weather has led to higher-than-normal usage.
"The autofill program does not guarantee against a runout, as we are unable to monitor the fuel consumption for every building," Mackey wrote.
He said customers can monitor their own tank levels and call Uqsuq if their fuel level is low.
Costs and timeline for repairs unknown
If they can find a new place to cook, Blais said she's hopeful they'll be able to start offering a community meal again in a week or so. She couldn't say how long the facility would be down for.
"It could be weeks, it could be months — we don't know," she said. "We are working as hard as we can to find alternatives."
They haven't yet taken stock of all the costs they'd need to cover for repairs, but they're looking at a bill worth tens of thousands of dollars, she said — the industrial dishwasher alone is a $10,000 machine.
"As a registered charity ... having a large expense like having to repair our entire building would be devastating for the organization," she said.
"We are hoping that insurance companies will come to some sort of agreement."
Call your MLA, says Blais
Blais said the situation should be a "call for alarm" for the territorial and federal governments, given the amount of people who rely on the centre each day.
She said they've had to turn away neighbours and community members who are still coming to the food bank for a daily meal.
"Having to tell them there is no meal today is a really hard conversation to have," she said.
"A lot of people rely on this meal — families, children, elders. So it's a huge loss to the community."
She said people who are concerned about the impact of this should call their MLA and voice concern about so many people relying on one charity organization for basic access to food.
"This isn't something we can rely on a single charity for, and obviously, as we've seen, it leaves the community very vulnerable," she said.