Nunatsiaq Online
COMMENTARY: Nunavut September 03, 2014 - 10:49 am

The Kugluktuk soup kitchen: more than just filling bellies

Pilot project hopes to get funding to continue this fall

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Volunteers Bessie Sitatak, far left, and Hikok Ivarluk, beside her, serve up bowls of caribou chili and char chowder Mar. 22 to Kugluktuk residents at a soup kitchen pilot project in the community's public library. The popular soup kitchen, which addresses some of the goals of Nunavut's food security strategy, ran every Saturday from January to March 2014 and organizers are hoping to find funding to get it up and running again. (PHOTO BY JESSE AJAYI)
Volunteers Bessie Sitatak, far left, and Hikok Ivarluk, beside her, serve up bowls of caribou chili and char chowder Mar. 22 to Kugluktuk residents at a soup kitchen pilot project in the community's public library. The popular soup kitchen, which addresses some of the goals of Nunavut's food security strategy, ran every Saturday from January to March 2014 and organizers are hoping to find funding to get it up and running again. (PHOTO BY JESSE AJAYI)
Emily Chapple taste-tests char chowder Mar. 22, while Bessie Sitatak prepares bannock in the Kugluktuk High School kitchen. (PHOTO BY JESSE AJAYI)
Emily Chapple taste-tests char chowder Mar. 22, while Bessie Sitatak prepares bannock in the Kugluktuk High School kitchen. (PHOTO BY JESSE AJAYI)
Soup kitchen volunteer Bessie Sitatak prepares food in the Kugluktuk High School kitchen Mar. 22. (PHOTO BY JESSE AJAYI)
Soup kitchen volunteer Bessie Sitatak prepares food in the Kugluktuk High School kitchen Mar. 22. (PHOTO BY JESSE AJAYI)

JESSE AJAYI AND REBECCA KLADY

A soup kitchen can be more than just a place to reduce hunger.

In Kugluktuk, the Saturday soup kitchen is a place where social ties and cultural values can be strengthened, and where social practices around food and gathering around food are changing.

The Kugluktuk soup kitchen is a collaborative effort among the Kugluktuk Women’s Group, the Wellness Committee and the Hamlet of Kugluktuk. Resident Bessie Sitatak was an important part of bringing it to life and keeping the program going.

Bessie said when she worked at Illavut Centre, a correctional or healing facility for low-risk offenders, people would call to ask for food hampers or country food to feed their families. And Bessie wanted to find some small way to respond to this very clear need.

In Nunavut, the amount that a single parent on income assistance might receive does not leave much room for error.

With careful budgeting, use of “personal orders” (a food transportation subsidy under the federal Nutrition North Canada program), and family members who can help supplement with country food, a single parent on income assistance might be able to adequately feed his or her family.

However, when supports are absent, and in the presence of health challenges such as addictions, mental health or physical and cognitive disabilities, feeding our families can become a very real and persistent concern.

This is where initiatives such as soup kitchens, food banks and shelters can help address gaps in some basic human needs.

The need for these programs is not unique to Kugluktuk, or even Canada, but how we respond to these needs may be important not only for the present, but also the future.

For example, the Kugluktuk soup kitchen is situated in the open floor space of the public library, which is also part of the high school.

Children who attend the soup kitchen with caregivers often spend part of their time reading books or colouring. Many children also borrow books to read at home.

This provides an opportunity for literacy development, and a level of comfort in the school environment important for both children and caregivers.

The Kugluktuk soup kitchen is just one example of an opportunity to better understand what underlies persistent hunger, and how we can respond uniquely as a community.

Life skills in meal planning, for example, and food preparation, are increasingly being recognized as part of the solution to food insecurity.

The newly released Nunavut Food Security Strategy and Action Plan indicates that “gaining and utilizing life skills” is essential for families to become nutritionally secure.

The Action Plan identifies that “a network of people involved in the development and transmission of life skills,” using “both formal and informal methods of learning,” is the way to achieve this goal.

The Kugluktuk soup kitchen is demonstrating that people-centered and locally driven institutions can achieve these goals by providing a platform to develop new skills and attitudes about food.

The mix of formal learning about food preparation and informal exchange about nutrition and balanced diets on Saturday afternoons is quietly, slowly transforming the culture of food in Kugluktuk. Far from just one meal a week, this soup kitchen is providing a path towards food security and sovereignty.

The first pilot for the Kugluktuk soup kitchen took place in December 2013. From January until the end of March 2014, the soup kitchen was a regular event every Saturday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. If funding is approved and enough volunteers step forward, the soup kitchen will run again in September 2014.

Jesse Ajayi is a community planner living and working in Kugluktuk. Rebecca Klady is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia. Her research is focused on food security and sovereignty in Kugluktuk.

Char chowder waiting to be served to participants at the public library in the Kugluktuk High School Mar. 22. (PHOTO BY JESSE AJAYI)
Char chowder waiting to be served to participants at the public library in the Kugluktuk High School Mar. 22. (PHOTO BY JESSE AJAYI)
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