These volunteers hit the ice road to improve food security in northern First Nations communities
Organizations partnered to bring food from Winnipeg to northern Manitoba, Ontario First Nations
A quest to deliver thousands of pounds of food to a remote Manitoba First Nation only accessible to vehicles for six weeks of the year via an ice road has culminated in a new partnership to improve food security.
Volunteers from Harvest Manitoba food bank, the Regional Food Distribution Association in Thunder Bay and Maxim Truck & Trailer drove more than 3,000 kilometres earlier this month to drop off 4,000 pounds worth of food in Shamattawa First Nation in Manitoba and in Fort Severn First Nation in northern Ontario.
They left Winnipeg on Feb. 28, arriving in Shamattawa two days later.
"As soon as the food truck arrived, the people just started coming," said Glenda Flett, who has lived in Shamattawa First Nation since 2015.
Flett runs a community pantry through the Jordan's Principle program — and she said the food delivery was a new and welcomed experience for many of those living in the area, which is 745 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
"It's something that's needed and wanted in the community," said Flett, who is from Opaskwayak Cree Nation.
Eric Redhead, the chief of Shamattawa, said residents don't have a lot of money and that food prices are "skyrocketing" in the remote community.
For most of the year, the community can only be reached by plane.
The ice road leading into Shamattawa is open for just six weeks of the year, so Redhead said he plans to work with airlines and Harvest Manitoba to get food to the region during the summer months.
"It looks like we'll be collaborating with Manitoba Harvest to establish a permanent food bank for the community," said Redhead.
The first delivery included staples like frozen vegetables, flour and pasta — and even whole turkeys.
Originally, the delivery team had planned to travel from Winnipeg to drop off food in Shamattawa, Fort Severn and then go on to Peawanuck in northern Ontario, but poor ice road conditions prevented them from reaching their final stop.
Their route took them on much of the Wapusk Trail, which, at 752 kilometres, is the longest seasonal road in the world — and a drive that Volker Kromm, who works for the Regional Food Distribution Association in Thunder Bay, wanted to experience.
"I admire those ice road truckers that do this for a living," said Kromm, who logged more than 3,000 kilometres on the trip.
And the trip was a necessary one.
There have been growing calls for the food bank's service in northern regions this winter, Harvest Manitoba's chief executive officer said.
The recent trip was a learning opportunity for the non-profit organization, Vince Barletta said.
"The big takeaway is that there's no way [we] can do this alone," he said.
"We have to have partners. And we have to have the leadership of community leaders, people like Chief Eric Redhead who knows his community — and can tell us how we can help, when we can help and the sorts of things that the community needs."
Barletta said that there are discussions in place on how to better serve northern communities and First Nations, adding that a northern depot to help better address food security in the north might be needed.