Breaking bread for future transit

Ginger Milne, left, helps out her grandmother Lillian Crook at the grill making breakfast sandwhiches for workers at the new health centre to raise money for the handi0van service. -- Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo

Ginger Milne, left, helps out her grandmother Lillian Crook at the grill making breakfast sandwhiches for workers at the new health centre to raise money for the handi0van service.
– Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo

Thanks to residents and volunteers stepping up this summer, the handi-van service may very well be up and running for at least part of the winter this year.

The Territorial Farmers’ Association (TFA) and Hay River Committee for Persons with Disabilities came together and hatched a plan to raise funds while providing a much needed service. With the use of the farmers’ association’s mobile kitchen, committee volunteers have been running a cantine at the work site for the new health centre, feeding workers hot breakfasts and lunches – as well as snacks and a vast quantity of cold drinks – since July 7.

“We needed money to run the handi-van and we couldn’t find any anywhere,” said Lillian Crook, president of the committee.

“I’m retired and this kitchen was available, so I decided to come out here and see if we could raise some money this way, and they love it.”

The handi-van, originally funded by a group of businesses in town, had to scale back its service last spring as a result of dwindling money as well as time. The van is now used exclusively for the contracts the committee holds for transporting students with disabilities to and from school and for its own clients. According to the committee’s executive director Pravina Bartlett, there was some backlash to the decision to stop responding to calls for pickups, but there was really no choice. Although she would like to see the handi-van return to full service, it needs adequate funding to do so.

Indeed, if the quantity of food the kitchen runs through in a day or the lineup outside the trailer at lunch and break times are any indication, the venture has been a success.

“They feed us every day,” said worker Ray Johnson. “It’s good to have food on-site. It’s way more convenient, and it’s for a great cause.”

Crook, along with her helpers, said she feeds between 25 and 30 people every day, Monday to Friday. She makes breakfast sandwiches and hamburgers, soup and cold sandwiches among other items and sells everything for five dollars or less.

“I think it’s pretty reasonable,” she said, adding that while the startup costs were pretty high, the initiative is now entirely in the black.

As an added benefit, Crook said some of the committee’s clients are coming out to the kitchen and working with her preparing food. While it does take someone with a certain level of training in food preparation in the unit, which Crook does indeed have, she said she is more than happy to have the extra hands on deck.

“We get lettuce from gardens and other fresh local produce too,” she said. “And of course we watch the sales. We’re really trying to keep the costs down so we can raise as much as we can for the hand-van service.”

Crook said it takes about $2,000 a month to run the van and that her goal is to raise enough to see them through next December, January and February. The van will also need a driver, as the staff at the centre itself are running full-tilt as it is.

“The one problem I see coming is that I’m maybe going back to work in September,” she said, adding that the contractors have asked her to keep cooking into November for the crews there.

Furthermore, the logistics of keeping the trailer running in the colder weather may prove prohibitive.

But for right now, the kitchen is pushing out food and money is coming in to fund a much-needed service. Crook said she thinks they are on track to hit their goal of $6,000 if all goes as planned.

“It’s been really good, we’ve had so much support,” she said, nonetheless encouraging anyone interested to head out to lend a hand. “Anyone who wants to come down and volunteer or help out in any way, we’d be happy to have you.”

– Sarah Ladik