Walking through the cramped aisles of the Hay River Soup Kitchen’s food pantry, it’s hard not to bump into a box of macaroni and cheese or a tub chock full of rice or flour.
The shelves are brimming with nutritious supplies, so much so that Soup Kitchen organizer Laura Rose has to store many of the boxes in a spare sea locker outside.
That was hardly the case even a few short weeks ago, when Laura was forced to close the Kitchen temporarily because her shelves held little more than salad dressing and a few bottles of mustard.
But a strong wave of community support – and a food drive campaign by PSAC North and the Northern Territories Federation of Labour – helped get the Soup Kitchen back up and running again just in time for new school year.
Donations from PSAC North, UNW and Locals 6 and 21 – as well as dozens of volunteer hours – helped raise more than $2,000 to restock the Soup Kitchen.
The community got behind the campaign as well, with the Super A grocery store donating more than $1,500 as part of their Roundup program, and cash and food donations rolled in to volunteers who were stationed outside the Northmart on Saturday, Aug. 23.
But more importantly, PSAC North – pioneered by REVP Jack Bourassa – is working to offer long-term support to the Soup Kitchen, bringing in donation baskets to both local grocery stores, as well as introducing a new labeling system in grocery stores that lets customers know exactly what the Soup Kitchen is most in need of every week.
The Green Apple Campaign, which was first started at the Whitehorse Food Bank, means staple items like rice, soups and breakfast foods will have small labels next to the prices to show just what’s needed.
It’s a campaign Jack aims to introduce across the North, and eventually to regions all across Canada, to assist food banks and community freezers in all communities.
Northmart and Super A have both pledged their continuing support, introducing a 50/50 draw and the Roundup program, respectively, to continue to bolster the Soup Kitchen’s shelves.
With many families in the North struggling to make ends meet, the need for food banks in the North continues to grow.
As Jack will outline in his Labour Views column in the Yellowknifer early September, the emerging food crisis in the North is an issue that can no longer be ignored.
Last year alone, 3,522 people used a food bank at least once in the North, The majority of those being children and senior citizens.
And while food bank use is rising quickly all across Canada, the situation is most dire in the three Northern territories, with 163% more people using food banks in 2013 than they did in 2008, a jump that’s more than three times as steep as anywhere else in Canada.
There are many reasons that explain the rising need for food banks, but the most important facet is a complete lack of support from the federal government to address the food crisis in the North.
Food prices continue to rise, especially in Nunavut, which has been widely covered by activist Leesie Papatsie’s Feeding My Family Campaign.
Federal programs like Nutrition North Canada aim to address the growing crisis, but are merely floundering and don’t do nearly enough to address the situation.
So far, the Conservative government’s efforts to solve the problem have merely been Band-Aid solutions to a gaping problem.
In their most recent report, Food Banks Canada is pushing for more investments in supportive social assistance programs and re-invigorating the economy to stimulate more well-paid, secure jobs – values the labour movement has been pushing for since its very inception.