'We are struggling to keep up': Hunger in Iqaluit stretches food centre's capacity

·3 min read
Rachel Blais is the executive director of the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre. Qajuqturvik has seen its demand steadily increase over the past 12 months, and is now serving close to 450 meals a day, she says.  (Sarah Krymalowski/CBC - image credit)
Rachel Blais is the executive director of the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre. Qajuqturvik has seen its demand steadily increase over the past 12 months, and is now serving close to 450 meals a day, she says. (Sarah Krymalowski/CBC - image credit)

Iqaluit faces a growing hunger crisis that has forced more people in the city of about 8,000 to rely on its food centre for sustenance.

Over the past year, the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre has seen its demand steadily increase — by about 12 per cent every single month, said executive director Rachel Blais.

"This time last year, we were serving about 100 to 150 meals per day to the community," Blais said. "Right now we're actually seeing numbers between 350 to 400. We're actually approaching 450 meals now on a daily basis."

Blais attributes that increase to rising food costs, already high in Iqaluit, which rose nationwide by 8.8 per cent in the past year.

Increased food costs have also affected the centre's bottom line.

Sarah Krymalowski/CBC
Sarah Krymalowski/CBC

"Not only are we seeing an increase in demand, but the food costs for that program is also increasing substantially every single month," Blais said.

The centre aims to employ people rather than rely on volunteerism, she said.

But now the centre is asking people to "help us to continue to provide this very essential service to Iqaluit."

"It's a little daunting just because usually summers are very quiet for us," Blais said.

Blais said the organization's staff have managed to keep up with demand through many crises in the capital, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent water crises.

"And now," Blais said, "we're faced with the day that we hoped would never come — the reality that we are struggling to keep up with demand, and we need support from the community."

Policy change needed

Nunavut is already acknowledged as the most food insecure region in the country, according to numerous studies.

About over half of households in all of Nunavut are experiencing food insecurity, "although those rates are actually outdated," Blais said.

But, she said the food centre is not the answer to food insecurity.

Sarah Krymalowski/CBC
Sarah Krymalowski/CBC

"It's actually policy change on a government level," she said.

"All across Nunavut, we know that food insecurity is present in every single community and a lot of communities don't have food banks. They don't have food centres or soup kitchens. So we need the government to step in and ensure that everyone has access to affordable and nutritious food."

A role for government

Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone, who has volunteered at the centre, is in agreement, and said he's raised those issues often in the Legislature.

"It just makes so much sense for the [Government of Nunavut] to play a role in addressing food security by assisting those who are actually doing it with core funding," he said.

Dustin Patar/CP
Dustin Patar/CP

That is what the territorial government appears to be heading toward, Lightstone said.

The territory's Nunavut Food Security Coalition announced on Aug. 15 that it is now accepting proposals for core funding that would address food security in Nunavut in 2022-23.

Up to $250,000 is available for food centres, like the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre, that provide multiple food-related services and programs with dedicated space for public access.

This week, another effort to address food insecurity, called a Food Sovereignty Roundtable, also took place in Iqaluit.

Organized by the Qikiqtani Business Development  Corporation, the gathering brought in participants from every Qikiqtani community for discussions on subjects such as local harvesting and demonstrations including a fish smoking and canning hands-on session.