Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Iqaluit May 17, 2016 - 8:30 am

Inclusion Café, soup kitchen plan joint venture to feed Nunavut’s capital

“Basically, the café and the soup kitchen are starting a non-profit social enterprise together"

THOMAS ROHNER
Kids play piano at the Iqaluit soup kitchen during an event hosted by the Inclusion Café May 12 as a thank you to supporters and to announce a new social enterprise partnership between the soup kitchen and the local catering service. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)
Kids play piano at the Iqaluit soup kitchen during an event hosted by the Inclusion Café May 12 as a thank you to supporters and to announce a new social enterprise partnership between the soup kitchen and the local catering service. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)

Iqaluit residents, imagine this: you walk into the soup kitchen one evening, greeted by wafts of simmering caribou stew and fresh baked goods.

The din of conversations and forks clattering on dishes fills the space, peopled with soup kitchen clientele and local professionals — everyone enjoying the delicious fare for which the Inclusion Café has become famous.

Staff from the café, who face some of the biggest barriers to employment, keep the space open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and beyond.

In one corner, youth pot tomato plants beside hunters preparing country food.

In another corner, local artists take turns serenading café-goers with music and poetry.

In the kitchen, an instructor teaches Iqalungmiut how to cook delicious, healthy meals.

This is the ambitious vision the Inclusion Café’s volunteer director, Carolyn Curtis, painted in an interview with Nunatsiaq News May 13.

“Basically, the café and the soup kitchen are starting a non-profit social enterprise together,” Curtis said.

“We have to decide what that’s going to look like, how it’s going to be governed… but I can really see it becoming a community hub, one that we don’t currently have.”

Curtis said a feasibility study and business plan, funded by the Government of Nunavut and completed last year, makes the joint venture a real possibility.

At a May 12 dinner at the soup kitchen, hosted by the Inclusion Café, the GN announced that it would extend its funding for the venture through the federal-territorial Labour Market Agreement.

That means a full-time coordinator can be hired this year to oversee the start-up of the project, and the Nunavut Disabilities Makinnasuaqtiit Society, which oversees the volunteer-run Inclusion Café, can hire a full-time job coach.

Besides volunteering at the café, Curtis is also the office and project manager for the NDMS.

“It’s really to the government’s credit for putting faith into this sort of community non-profit work. I’m really impressed with how much support we’ve received from them,” Curtis said.

The Inclusion Café has also won plenty of support from the community since it began with a small food tent during the Alianait music festival two years ago.

“We have to turn away multiple catering contracts a week right now, because we don’t have the capacity. But teaming up with the food centre will give us that capacity,” she said.

In fact, the popular catering service will form the economic base of the joint venture, said Curtis.

And that base could translate into all sorts of possible community activities.

A key part of the vision, Curtis said, is for the space to be welcoming to every Iqaluit resident, without exception.

The goal is to create a space where those suffering from food insecurity sit side-by-side with those looking for some place to relax other than a bar.

One idea that Curtis and others involved in the project are kicking around is introducing their own currency or voucher system.

Those who can’t afford a meal, would pay using this currency or a voucher, while other customers would pay cash, Curtis said.

“It’d be a great way for non-paying customers to feel like there’s some value to what they’re getting. And the currency or vouchers could be shared with family or friends in need. We could distribute the currency or vouchers in a way that increases food security.”

Paying customers could also purchase vouchers for non-paying customers, Curtis said.

And an alternate currency could be empowering to those who don’t have much money, Curtis said, because it would allow them to “buy” what they want, when they want.

Another potentially empowering aspect of this venture is in job opportunities for those who, historically, have faced huge barriers to employment.

The Inclusion Café workers, most of whom identify themselves as living with a disability, could run the business as a co-operative, Curtis said.

The full-time job coach that NDMS expects to hire this year will work with other local employers to help train and accommodate NDMS clients to ensure a successful transition into the workplace, Curtis said.

That includes helping businesses access federal and territorial funds to accommodate hiring people with disabilities.

Curtis said the overarching goal of the joint venture is to create a more inclusive community while providing a sorely-needed community hub.

For example, one goal of the venture is to provide a place where the homeless can warm up and have a hot cup of coffee during cold winter days, Curtis said.

And the joint venture could bring all sorts of community organizations together, said Curtis, with the shared goal of promoting food security, healthy food choices, community engagement and social responsibility.

“The idea of capacity-building through partnerships is one of the most exciting parts of this project, and will only strengthen the community as a whole,” Curtis said.

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