Nunavut capital’s soup kitchen struggles to meet local demand
Inclusion Café partnership done, Qayuqtuvik faces busy winter season with slim resources
Iqaluit’s Qayuqtuvik Society Food Centre is looking for ways to keep its programming as plentiful as its daily meal portions.
The community-run soup kitchen needs more volunteers, and more money, now that a partnership with the non-profit catering company Inclusion Café no longer has funding.
The partnership provided paid staff at the centre throughout the past year. The beneficial arrangement saw stable service at the food centre, and provided jobs and training to people who face employment barriers.
As a result of the partnership, client numbers increased at the centre and food quality was up thanks to a professional chef. And, the food centre was also able to offer skill-building programs such as community cooking lessons and after school cooking programs.
But the funding that allowed that partnership to flourish has not been secured for another year, said Wade Thorhaug, chair of the board for the Qayuqtuvik Society Food Centre.
The centre has “scraped together” enough money to keep its head chef but some services, such as the ability to provide take-out meals, could see cut backs, he said.
“The quality of our meals will continue but we are going to have a lot of operational difficulty in the coming year because we have to go back to a more volunteer based delivery of our meals, which was the case for many years up until last year,” Thorhaug said.
Much of the centre’s funding comes through corporate and private donations, as well as grants. The centre also creates revenue by renting space to the Piviniit Thrift Store and to the Iqaluit food bank. Most remaining funding comes through federal grants and programs such as Community Food Centres Canada.
“We don’t get a lot of money from the GN,” Thorhaug said.
Volunteers will be needed to serve food over lunch on weekdays and weekends. But helping hands are not restricted to the kitchen. The society is also seeking in kind support via building repair skills, legal advice, interpretation work, or whatever else a community member might be able to offer.
In three years of working with the Qayuqtuvik Society, Thorhaug said this is the first time he has seen the food centre struggle financially, going so far as to ask suppliers to wait a bit before cashing a cheque so it doesn’t bounce.
The food centre won’t be able to offer training opportunities anymore, other than through volunteer hours. And as for keeping up with meal demand, “it depends on how much we can afford to buy,” head chef Michael Lockley said.
With winter coming, expenses will increase, and the centre doesn’t want to be stingy with the portions it passes out, Lockley said.
“In the winter it’s brutal. People need more calories,” he said.
Qayuqtuvik means: “place to get soup,” in Inuktitut. The soup kitchen has been operating in Iqaluit since the 1990s, and out of its current purpose-built building for a decade.
Between 80 and 120 people could come for lunch on any given day—numbers that are reflective of the success the centre saw this past year because of consistent staffing.
More women and children have been going to the food centre this year as well, said Lockley. And, instead of dining and dashing like they did in the past, many clients will now stay awhile, to do a crossword puzzle, have a cup of tea, or to play the piano, he said.
“The food is better and they feel the environment is safer,” he said, adding that the good quality food is an important part of respecting the dignity of the people who come in for help.
What’s on the menu? It’s often homemade comfort food such as chili, lasagna and shepherds pie, said Lockley. “We always have salad and when we can, we have dessert.”
Both Thorhaug and Lockley stressed how important the program is to addressing food insecurity in the community.
“How can you be serious about food insecurity if you don’t have a really good food center or soup kitchen,” Lockley asked, adding that the daily meal makes life more livable for many Iqalummiut who are struggling to get by.
“It’s so hard to [get ahead] when you’re worried about food,” he said.
To get involved, or to offer support to the food centre, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, send a private message on Facebook through the Qayuqtuvik Food Centre page, or call the society chair Wade Thorhaug at 877-0627. Donations can also be made at a Canada Helps funding page.
The society is holding its annual general meeting on Sept. 23 at 1 p.m.