Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 12, 2009
St. Vincent de Paul goes to the North
Retired theologian finds new way of life countering social problems on the Arctic Ocean
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has become a hit in this small Arctic hamlet of Tuktoyaktut on the Arctic Ocean, providing locals with food and clothing in times of need.
"The presence of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a source of hope for the people of Tuktoyaktuk," says Sister Fay Trombley, the society's co-founder and spiritual director. "Clearly the society is a success story here in Tuk."
The society, formally known as St. Joseph's Conference, started operating a food bank and a clothing store in Tuktoyaktuk in March 2007, a month after Calgary's Lynn L'Heureux, the president of the society's Western Region at the time, paid a side visit to the hamlet while in Inuvik for a Catholic Women's League conference.
L'Heureux told the locals the purpose of the society of St. Vincent de Paul is to serve the poor and give them hope and dignity. She then offered the society's financial support to open a thrift store.
Locals embraced the society's concept because they need the help, said Trombley, a retired Newman Theological College professor who is now a pastoral worker for the Mackenzie-Fort Smith Diocese.
Tuktoyaktuk, a hamlet of about 1,000 people at 69 degrees north latitude, is a community rich in traditions and culture but poor in resources. "Its standard of living is certainly below southern standards," noted Trombley, a Sister of Charity of the Immaculate Conception.
Unemployment in Tuk is about 80 per cent and the community struggles with addictions, poverty and social problems.
"The community did not have much hope," said Trombley, who runs a Catholic mission in the hamlet. "They didn't have a food bank or a clothing distribution centre or any functioning ecumenical group outside of Sunday services. The people felt abandoned and helpless."
Hope returned to the community when the society began offering food and clothing to those in need.
A year ago Eileen Orysiuk of Calgary sent a 20x8 foot metal container full of goods and winter clothing - mostly fur, feather and leather garments able to withstand the cold. Another container arrived in August "and we anticipate that each year goods might be sent in this way."
Trombley and other society members shop locally for basics such as flour, sugar, tea, coffee, lard, baking powder, cheese whiz, peanut butter, pasta, oatmeal and powdered milk. Sometimes local grocery stores donate additional products such as canned goods and cereals.
The society operated out of Trombley's house until March 2008, when it moved to a two-storey former Catholic rectory in need of renovations. Daryl Dittrich of Edmonton's central distribution centre spent three weeks in Tuk this summer doing the renovations and now the house has heat, shelving and a new roof.
Currently the clothing store and the food bank open once a week on Wednesday evening for two hours. Charles Gruben and Marina Mangelana operate the clothing store. Danny Loreen helps run the food bank.
"We probably serve a dozen families a week," Trombley said. "The food is always free, but for the clothing, depending on the family circumstances, sometimes a small donation is made."
At Christmas and Halloween the society allows school children to make cookies and candy apples with its supplies.
Recently the society got a large freezer and is now asking local fishermen to donate fresh fish for families in need.
One of the biggest challenges for the society is the transportation of goods as there is no road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, except for the winter ice road over the river and the ocean.
"To move goods from the south we have to depend on trucking companies and a barge company out of Hay River," said Trombley. "We've been blessed that some companies do it for free or at a reduced rate."
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