New hope for food bank

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo Bruce Gaudeit, left, Heather and Shelby Coakwell, Tom Turcotte, Michael Aubry, Jack Bourassa, Melvin Larocque, and Anne Juneau spent their Saturday afternoon in front of Northmart collecting donations for the South Kitchen and food bank in an effort to not only prop up the struggling organization, but also encourage ongoing support for it within the community.

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo
Bruce Gaudeit, left, Heather and Shelby Coakwell, Tom Turcotte, Michael Aubry, Jack Bourassa, Melvin Larocque, and Anne Juneau spent their Saturday afternoon in front of Northmart collecting donations for the South Kitchen and food bank in an effort to not only prop up the struggling organization, but also encourage ongoing support for it within the community.

Members of several local unions got together last weekend to support the Hay River Soup Kitchen and food bank, amassing more than $1,600 worth of groceries for the struggling organization.

But the benefits of their visit should be longer-lived than those much-needed supplies alone. In copying a Whitehorse program, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) created stickers organizers at the soup kitchen can place on items at grocery stores depending on what they need most. Consumers can then purchase the items and place them in donation boxes as they leave the store.

“It just makes sense,” said Michael Aubry, political communications officer for PSAC’s Northern office in Yellowknife. “It makes it easier for people to donate and help out.”

As The Hub reported last month, local food bank services are in jeopardy, having to shut down for an indeterminate period of time as a result of lacking resources – both food and funds – to run it. From March through to May this year, no fewer than 69 families, with 148 total individuals, looked for help from the food bank. Soup kitchen operator Laura Rose said most of them are single mothers with several small children. In those three months, she said she received a total of 197 requests for help.

The problems facing food banks, however, are not confined to Hay River. Aubry said not only are Northerners facing higher food prices in general, the number of people regularly accessing food banks in the three territories has increased 163 per cent over the last five years. Average growth in users in the rest of Canada is closer to 20 per cent. Nearly 40 per cent of people supported by food bank services in the North are children.

“Food banks in the North really need our help,” said Jack Bourassa, regional executive vice president for PSAC’s Northern office. “We can come in and do something like this but in the end it has to be community supported.”

To that end, the union-members and volunteers gathered in front of Northmart last weekend did a grocery run worth $1,600 for the soup kitchen and accepted many donations from shoppers. Furthermore, Aubry said the union plans on spending another $1,000 when Super A tallies the total donations from the its most recent round-up program for the soup kitchen.

“Today we’re just talking to people, and letting them know that the need is there,” he said. “People are very being very generous.”

The labels will be fixed on items in both Super A and Northmart with bins set up near the tills for donations to the food bank and soup kitchen. Bourassa said he hopes to roll the sticker program out across the North to help other food banks in other communities as well.

“It’s just so important to support these organizations,” he said. “These are families and children and people we know who are accessing these services and we need to make sure there is enough to go around.”

-Sarah Ladik