In Nunavut, closures threaten food security for children and the homeless

Stocking up on essentials isn’t an option for all Nunavummiut who are staying home because of COVID-19. Territory-wide closures mean that not everyone has the same access to food that they did a few weeks ago.

COVID-19 shutdowns leave gaps in school, community meal programs

Wade Thorhaug runs the Qajuqturvik Food Centre in Iqaluit, which has made its meal services takeout only, and cut back to five days a week. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Stocking up on essentials isn't an option for all Nunavummiut who are staying home because of COVID-19. And territory-wide closures mean that not everyone has the same access to food that they did a few weeks ago. 

In Iqaluit, the Qajuqturvik Food Centre is only serving lunch hour meals five days a week. Staff are reduced to a core group of three. Executive director Wade Thorhaug called the service "emergency food provision." 

He's hoping the centre will be able to keep serving hot takeout lunches to around 70 people each day. 

But its dining room is closed for the foreseeable future. The centre is one of the few public spaces in the city to get out of the cold. Thorhaug says exposure to COVID-19 isn't worth the risk, and that the group shut down the centre even before it was called for by the territory.   

A sign posted on the front door of the Qajuqturvik Food Centre notifies clients of the change in services. (Beth Brown/CBC)

"We see a lot of people at our lunch service from the men's shelter," he said.

"One of the reasons that we've taken the decision to close off the dining room is because, if one of those people were to contract [COVID-19] here at the centre and bring it into the shelter, that would be a drastic situation for the 40 or so people that reside there." 

The men's shelter used to be closed in the daytime, but is now open for regular clients. 

School fills over 80 bags to send home

For many families and children, school lunch programs are relied on for at least one meal each day. 

Jason Rochon is a student support worker at Joamie Elementary School In Iqaluit. He runs the school's food bank and breakfast program. 

Last week, when he heard schools were going to close, he filled over 80 bags with groceries to send home with students. 

Pandemic or not, these programs are really important.- Malcolm Ranta, Ilisaqsivik Society

"I knew it was really going to impact food security," he said. "That's why I made pancakes for the kids when they came in that day. And then I just started to send as much food as possible." 

He said there are at least 40 families in his school that could use this help. Right now he's working with local businesses to find another way to distribute food to residents. 

In Clyde River, the Ilisaqsivik Society is working with its school to find out which families are experiencing food insecurity because of the virus. They're delivering food hampers to residents, thanks to some available funding. 

The Ilisaqsivik Society in Clyde River, Nunavut, is preparing and delivering food hampers to residents. (Submitted by the Ilisaqsivik Society)

The society's director, Malcolm Ranta, said they can do this for up to three weeks. 

"Pandemic or not, these programs are really important," he said. "People rely on them"

He says up to 50 per cent of the community is touched each day by the work the Ilisaqsivik Society does.

"To withdraw that right now would be a huge loss of support," Ranta said. 

On Friday, Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq acknowledged the gap and said the government is looking for a way to substitute meal programs that aren't happening because of school closures, as well as looking into supports for community food banks and food services. 

For elders and people in quarantine, grocery stores in Nunavut are making seniors-only shopping times and working to offer home delivery. 

The North West Company said it would make sure community stores are stocked with essential food items, and said staff will not lose hours at work.