Ottawa Food Bank heads north to deliver food to Iqaluit

The Ottawa Food Bank is heading north with the help of a northern airline this holiday season to deliver 4,500 kilograms of food to Iqaluit, which saw one of its two grocery stores devastated by a fire in November.

Food will be transported by Canadian North airline for free

Michael Maidment, CEO of the Ottawa Food Bank, said the organization is sending 4,500 kilograms of food to Iqaluit. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

The Ottawa Food Bank is heading north with the help of a northern airline this holiday season to deliver 4,500 kilograms of food to Iqaluit, after one of its two grocery stores was devastated by fire in November.

The donation is part of a wider effort begun by CBC Thunder Bay as part of the annual Sounds of the Season charity drive.  

Iqaluit has no con​nection to southern Canada by road, so airline Canadian North will be transporting the food to the community for free, said Kelly Lewis, the company's manager of communications.  

"We've got team members who see this everyday. There are people in their communities that can't always afford to eat healthy food," Lewis said.

"We had some space on the plane to help out and it was just a natural thing for us to do."

In a place where food prices are already sky high, the loss of the city's biggest retailer has residents worried about their food supply. 1:50

Fire impacted food donations

A warehouse at the community's Northmart grocery store went up in flames in the early hours of Nov. 8, destroying most of the supplies that had been shipped up for the winter.

The fire negatively affected the number of donations the Iqaluit food bank was expecting for this year, and sparked fears of worsening food security, said Ottawa Food Bank CEO Michael Maidment.

He said the food they're sending north is worth around $15,000, and it would normally cost more than $20,000 to ship it all.

"It really goes to show how challenging food security is in the north, just the cost of getting food there is substantial," he said.

Food donations are loaded onto a truck bound for the airport. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

The seven pallets of food were loaded onto a truck at the Ottawa Food Bank and taken to the airport Saturday. Six contained non-perishable items like soup and pasta sauce, while the seventh carried fruit like apples, oranges and bananas.

They'll be shipped up to the remote community in several waves, Maidment said, with all the food expected to arrive within the next week.

The first flight leaves Sunday morning, and Maidment will be on board.

Michael Maidment, head of the Ottawa Food Bank, speaks about how thousands of kilograms of food are being shipped north to Iqaluit after a fire broke out at the warehouse of one of the community's two grocery stores. 0:45

The Ottawa organization's involvement came in a roundabout way, starting with CBC Thunder Bay's fundraising initiative, Maidment said.

CBC Sounds of the Season takes place every year with the goal of donating food to communities in need.

Pallets of food donations destined for Iqaluit sit at the Ottawa Food Bank warehouse before heading to the airport on Saturday. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

The annual project, which aims to donate food to needy communities, normally covers a large region of northern Ontario, including many remote Indigenous communities.

But with the additional need in Iqaluit this year, they decided to expand.

In all, planes will be flying to 10 remote communities, delivering tens of thousands of pounds of food, Volker Kromm, executive director of Thunder Bay's Regional Food Distribution Association (RFDA), said in an interview on CBC Radio's Superior Morning.

Kromm and Maidment are both on the board of the Ontario Association of Food Banks, Maidment said. As soon as he heard of the initiative, he looked into ways the Ottawa Food Bank could help.

"We're pretty fortunate here," Maidment said. "It feels good that we can pitch in and help our neighbours in the north."