The local co-op in Igloolik, Nunavut, is offering to help southern donors get food to Nunavummiut in need.

Dana Sheaves

'I thought, locally there is something we can do,' says the co-op's assistant manager, Dana Sheaves. (Submitted by Dana Sheaves)

A volunteer network called Helping our Northern Neighbours has been sending food packages to Nunavut communities since last year, but the high cost of shipping is an ongoing challenge. 

Under the old Food Mail program, anyone could ship food to northern communities using a standard subsidized shipping rate through Canada Post. The new Nutrition North program, introduced in 2011, hands that subsidy directly to retailers, which means those sending food North independently can face high shipping rates. 

Last week the Igloolik Co-op began offering healthy food donation packages to southern donors. The donor purchases the package, and the Co-op delivers it to the sponsored family.

Family of 6 food package

Igloolik Co-op care package for a family of 6-8 people, $250. (Facebook/Igloolik Co-op)

Dana Sheaves, assistant manager at the Igloolik Co-op, says she has been following the Helping our Northern Neighbours Facebook group since it started.

"I thought, locally there is something we can do," she said. "As a co-operative it's our goal to help our community. My grocery bill has been $4,000 a month. I knew we had to do something to help our local people." 

She says the response to the healthy food packages has been overwhelming. There's been such a response she's had to hire an extra person to help.  

Sheaves says the reaction from recipient families in Igloolik has touched her heart.

Baby package

An Igloolik Co-op baby care package costs $65. (Facebook/Igloolik Co-op)

"There's been tears. You can see the stress release in their eyes," she says.

"They're so happy to have been chosen to be sponsored by these wonderful people from Helping Our Northern Neighbours. And it just makes me enjoy my job that much more."

Although many of the packages are going to sponsored families, Sheaves says some donors are also purchasing one-time donations for the Igloolik food bank. 

The Igloolik Co-op offers several options for donors looking to help,  including basic care packages as well as frozen meat packages and fresh fruit and veggies options. Sheaves says there are several new packages in the works including a kid's lunch option, a baby welcome package and a hunter's package, "so hunters can go out and get meat to provide for their families," she says. 

The healthy packages are also for sale to local customers.

Sheaves says other co-ops across the North are interested in starting a similar program. 

The Helping our Northern Neighbours network continues to grow; there are nearly 14,000 members on the Facebook group.