You might think you pay way too much for groceries, but at least a head of cabbage and two kilograms of frozen fried chicken won’t set you back $90.
When people living in Nunavut’s most remote communities walk up to the cash register, they are forced to fork over that much money for things (like cabbage and chicken) that cost exorbitantly less in this country’s south. The high food prices (due to high transportation costs), coupled with low income and unemployment, have created a crisis within Canada’s isolated northern communities. But one B.C. woman is hoping to change all that, one care package at a time.
Upon hearing that people were starving because they couldn’t afford to buy food, Jennifer Gwilliam founded Helping Our Northern Neighbours (HONN). Created last summer, the group connects people who want to donate care packages full of food and other items with northern families in need.
“There are families who have been feeding their babies watered down juice and dry bread. There are children not going to school because they are too weak from hunger or who don’t have a pair of warm winter boots that fit,” Gwilliam said, in an email to The Loop. “The other day I was told of a five-year-old girl walking outside wearing a life jacket as she doesn’t own a coat. This should not be happening in Canada, and it has to change.”
88-year-old elder Elisapee Ishulutaq (pictured above), a member of the Order of Canada, cries happy tears upon receiving her family’s care package.
Over 600 families – mostly from Nunavut, The Yukon and Northwest Territories, but some from the northern parts of British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec – have reached out to HONN for assistance. Donors can choose to either make a one-time donation or support a family with multiple care packages throughout the year. Royden Eetuk’s family was in desperate need of a care package. From a tiny community in Coral Harbour, Nunavut, he says he’s been struggling to make ends meet.
“When we heard about HONN, I decided to add my family, ’cause it’s hard to keep food in the pantry and fridge,” Eetuk said, speaking to The Loop via Facebook. “It was difficult before we got our food package. I graduated from high school and have a college certificate, but it’s nothing when you can’t get a job. We lived off income support day-by-day.”
A 2014 report done by the Council of Canadian Academies found that Aboriginal households in northern and remote areas experience food insecurity at a rate about two times higher (27.1 per cent) than non-Aboriginal households (11.5 per cent). Although a $60-million annual food subsidy program called Nutrition North was launched in 2011, Inuits have been complaining for years about its ineffectiveness at making food more affordable.
The government is now looking into the program, but until a permanent solution is found, many only have food banks and programs like Helping Our Northern Neighbours to rely on. Gwilliam admits that help was only trickling in, but says that once she was featured on The Huffinton Post Canada earlier this week, thousands have volunteered to lend a hand.
“Within a 24-hour period, our group more than tripled and we were inundated with people wanting to help. No one could ever have predicted how this was going to mushroom,” she said. “Quite obviously there was a need for such a program as it has touched hearts across the country.”
The support has been so overwhelming, regional chapters have been created to pool together local resources and help the grassroots organization stay organized. Gwilliam’s has been so inundated with thousands of messages in such a short amount of time, she says it might take a while for her to get back to everyone, but she’ll get through it.
“In a world that is hurting on so many fronts, I can at least do my own little part in trying to help make it a better place for all. I have been given beautifully handcrafted gifts from people in the north who say they are so grateful that someone finally heard them,” she said. “I am told of Elders breaking down in tears when they see their box that has come from a total stranger, and just saying ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you!'”
It’s chilly, non? No wonder you’re a bit cranky, what with those frozen fingers and red nose, but before you let the winter blues completely take over, we’ve got just the thing to help you snap out of it. Warm your cold, frozen Canadian heart with daily feel-good stories all winter long right here on The Loop. Get ready, because you’re bound to find yourself smiling at lot more than usual.