Qajuqturvik Food Centre persists in battle against food insecurity in Iqaluit
By Rose Lamberti
Food insecurity among Iqaluit residents is growing. Indeed, it has tripled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, according to Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre executive director Rachel Blais.
Demand has been exasperated by the pandemic and how the federal government responded to it, Blais said, noting the centre served about 120 meals a day a year ago.
“Even that was pretty high at the time,” she said. ” We’re now seeing daily meal numbers of between 400-500 consistently.”
Blais said there wasn’t much demand for their food access programs when government funding was available, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) announced in March 2020.
“When CERB became readily available and was very easily accessible, we saw our numbers plummet because people had the funds to purchase their own food at the grocery stores and cook for themselves, which is what we want to see. That is what we want,” she said.
But their numbers almost doubled as the pandemic continued and CERB became increasingly difficult to access, Blais said.
“As CERB became more and more restrictive, we saw our numbers go up and up steadily,” she said.
Qajuqturvik has expanded its outreach and provides different programs to the community in Nunavut, said Blais, who joined the food centre’s mission two years ago.
For example, food boxes are available for families, she said.
The Piruqtuviniit food box with produce is available Thursdays between 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. The centre also provides Inuliqtait food boxes, which contain an assortment of country food, and are available with a pay-what-you-can option.
“The goal of that is to create a more equitable food system here in Iqaluit, that community members are supporting community members and contributing to this program that ensures that all Iqalummiut have access to affordable, nutritious food,” Blais said. “Our Piruqtuviniit food box program now serves between 75-90 households per week and the Inuliqtait box serves about 60 households every two weeks. Through the country food box, we purchased almost 10,000 kgs of country food from hunters across Nunavut in 2022.”
Qajuqturvik partnered with Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC) in 2020, and follows a three-pillar model for its programs.
The first pillar focuses on supplying food to those in need, the second teaches people culinary skills, and the third builds advocacy skills.
“We serve a daily meal from Monday to Friday. It’s a lunch available to any community member,” Blais said.
The food centre also offers several other community-focused programs to help alleviate food insecurity issues in Nunavut.
“We have a pre-employment culinary skills training program,” Blais said. “[It’s] an eight-week paid program where we train people to be able to work in a professional kitchen and [assist] them in finding work in the culinary field.”
Qajuqturvik also offers basic food skills programs for kids, youth, and adults of every age.
Blais said the food centre has developed advocacy workshops and support groups to help those directly impacted.
“We have a peer advocate, and their role is to assist community members in navigating the many barriers and bureaucratic systems that come along with a lot of the government resources available,” Blais said.
Blais hopes others will recognize that people no longer have access to income supports that were available during COVID lockdowns, and that this seems to have worsened food access issues in Nunavut.
“I think the biggest impact that community members can have on food security in the North is through advocacy, holding our government accountable, advocating for the changes that we want to see to address the root causes of food insecurity,” she said.
Through community support of programs and workshops, advocacy and accountability, and donations, the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre continues to push for significant change, one meal at a time.
To donate or to check out available programs, see their website at https://www.qajuqturvik.ca/