N.S. students send school supplies to Nunavut after learning about extreme costs

·4 min read
Emily Matthews grew up in Nunavut and experienced the high prices of goods first-hand. (Submitted by Brennah Agnew - image credit)
Emily Matthews grew up in Nunavut and experienced the high prices of goods first-hand. (Submitted by Brennah Agnew - image credit)

Two recent St. Francis Xavier University graduates have donated $800 worth of supplies to Nunavut schools after learning about the extreme costs of goods in northern Canada.

Emily Matthews and Brennah Agnew were inspired after seeing a viral tweet from a mother in Iqaluit last September.

The tweet explains that one notebook, three highlighters, two pens and 15 pencils cost a whopping $43. The mother continues to say that she refused to pay $25 for one pack of paper.

"Instantly, I was like, 'I remember this. I remember how expensive things are [in Nunavut],'" said Matthews, who grew up in Iqaluit and witnessed the high prices first-hand.

"I understand it and now I'm on the other side where I don't have to go through the crazy inequality of pricing up north so [I thought] I should do something about it."

She immediately texted Agnew and suggested they send a box of supplies to Iqaluit.

Agnew grew up in Ottawa and said she previously assumed that school supplies were cheap and accessible across Canada.

But when she learned that a pack of 400 sheets of paper cost $25 in Iqaluit — compared to less than $1 in Ontario — she was shocked.

"That is kind of insane, that difference right there … it's not cheap. It's quite significant," she said.

Eager to help, they collected donations from friends and family and purchased $800 worth of school supplies, including 150 packs of paper, 86 packs of pencils and 55 packs of highlighters.

Brennah Agnew wanted to help her friend after learning about the extreme prices of goods in Nunavut from a viral tweet.
Brennah Agnew wanted to help her friend after learning about the extreme prices of goods in Nunavut from a viral tweet.(Submitted by Brennah Agnew)

But as they sorted through the supplies last fall, reality set in. They would have to ship the materials from rural Nova Scotia to northern Canada.

"We quickly realized why school supplies are so expensive because it's so expensive to ship it up," Matthews said.

"We were going to have to spend more money on shipping than we did on school supplies."

High costs in northern Canada can be mostly attributed to the logistics of transporting goods. Air is the most expensive mode of transport for cargo, and many northern communities are accessible only by air for much of the year.

The pair said first estimates put shipping costs between $1,300 and $1,600.

The duo collected $800 worth of supplies last fall, with hopes of shipping them to three Iqaluit schools.
The duo collected $800 worth of supplies last fall, with hopes of shipping them to three Iqaluit schools.(Submitted by Brennah Agnew)

"We really wanted to take our time to figure out the best way, the cheapest way, and then fundraise some more to be able to pay for the shipping costs," Matthews said.

First, they applied for a $500 grant from the St. FX Students' Union, which was accepted. Then, they contacted the Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership, which offered to pay for the remaining costs — about another $500.

Matthews and Agnew were relieved and grateful for the help. Their plan had been months in the making and they knew they couldn't give up.

The three containers of school supplies were shipped at the end of April, just days before they were set to graduate.

"By the time we were doing it, we were a little late to the game," Matthews said.

"They were accepting donations in September so in our heads, it worked out. We were like, 'OK, if we take the time for shipping, then it'll get there for the next school year.'"

The supplies were sent to the three schools Matthews attended while in Iqaluit: Nakasuk Elementary School, Aqsarniit Middle School and Inuksuk High School.

"It felt amazing. I left six years ago now, but Nunavut raised me and that place still has my heart," she said.

Shipping costs for the schools supplies ended up being about $1,000.
Shipping costs for the schools supplies ended up being about $1,000.(Submitted by Brennah Agnew)

"I've called a lot of places home, but that's probably the place that I still call home the most."

Agnew said despite the unexpected challenges, sending the supplies was worth every minute of work.

"School supplies are just so essential," she said. "By sending the school supplies, it lessens ... the pressure for parents and for teachers to find school supplies for these students or to pay these high prices."

Matthews said the supplies were scheduled to arrive last week but schools are closed as Iqaluit is in lockdown due to COVID-19.

She said she will contact the schools this week to make sure the supplies arrived.

Matthews and Agnew said they're hoping their experience helps highlight the inequalities that Canadians in the north face everyday.

"This [is a] bigger issue that is happening that doesn't receive a lot of national attention but should receive much more attention," Agnew said.

"[It] should be addressed on a national level versus just two university students trying to do their best and send out some school supplies."

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