A family in Gjoa Haven, supported by two elders, prepare food from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's North of 60 program for distribution to needy people in the community.

PHOTO SUPPLIED

A family in Gjoa Haven, supported by two elders, prepare food from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's North of 60 program for distribution to needy people in the community.

April 4, 2016
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

On a winter day in Tuktoyaktuk, everyone is gathered around a wood stove inside a Society of St. Vincent de Paul community food and clothing distribution centre.

Redemptorist Father Jon Hansen, new to the Arctic community, cannot help but smile when he sees one little boy with his brand new plush stuffed toy, holding it like his new best friend.

"Those little moments kind of make you smile, like you're making a difference," he said.

In Canada's North - an expensive place to live and at the same time plagued with poverty - sea containers shipped yearly from Edmonton containing food, household products and other items of necessity as part of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's (SSVP) North of 60 Project, are a crucial help to those living in Canadian Arctic communities who have less.

Hansen, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Inuvik, has been involved in the North of 60 program since he arrived in the North last year to find a sea can packed with goods waiting to be delivered to the parish for distribution.

This year, the program aims to ship nine six-metre sea containers north, supporting 10 Arctic communities. Each container is stocked with between 900 and 1,800 kilograms of food.

"It's really quite an amazing program, the amount of goods that they supply," said Hansen, who also looks after the missions of Tsiigehtchic, Tuktoyaktuk and Paulatuk. "They're really wide open to the needs of the community; we just write our list and Peter (Ouellette) and the parishes that supply the goods, they've just been really amazing."

Peter Ouellette

Peter Ouellette

Ouellette, president of the SSVP in Western Canada, said the North of 60 project has developed a principle of shipping only what the community asks for.

Food security is the primary focus, as food prices are high and selection is limited.

"The Society of St. Vincent de Paul helps those who are sort of on the margin of things, helps stretch their paycheques further," said Hansen. "In times of crisis, we could help somebody with a bag of groceries, a winter coat or pair of boots, so they don't have to worry about those basic necessities."

"In smaller missions like Paulatuk, Tuk, it becomes even more crucial because food in the North is so expensive. To be able to go to the neighbouring mission, get a bag of sugar, flour, pasta - it's just really a basic necessity that's being provided."

Most of the roughly 9,000 kilograms of food is donated from churches and community groups through the SSVP conferences in the Edmonton region. It is then sorted in a warehouse, repackaged and allocated to sea containers. Some items, including whole powder milk, is purchased directly in bulk.

"The Edmonton community is very generous with donations when they see a particular need being expressed," said Ouellete.

The cost of the program would be close to $1 million without the donations, he said. About $10,000 cash is donated through private donors, SSVP conferences and organizations such as the Catholic Women's League.

Corporate sponsorship is crucial to the program, Ouellette said.

The project is made financially viable with corporate support from the Inuvialuit Corporation and its subsidiaries, as well as trucking industry support to get the sea cans to the barge.

The project started with the society supporting the community of Tuktoyaktuk, sending truckloads of supplies and a sea container to establish a SSVP community food and clothing distribution centre. Last year, the program expanded to eight sea cans shipped to support nine communities.

As well, other donations, such as food and arctic quality windows have come from corporations.

The map shows the nine northern communities the North of 60 project served in 2015. (Tsiigehtchic is in the same circle as Inuvik). This year, the program will be expanded to include Good Hope.

The map shows the nine northern communities the North of 60 project served in 2015. (Tsiigehtchic is in the same circle as Inuvik). This year, the program will be expanded to include Good Hope.

Ouellete said the program's growth is directly related to the need, as the North of 60 committee is introduced to people it could work with in other northern communities. "The needs in the Arctic are huge."

Through the sponsorship of Canadian North, SSVP coordinators fly into the communities for visits, develop a rapport and learn of the community's needs.

HOSPITALITY

Relationship building is also done through parishes in the Edmonton region, with parishioners extending hospitality in their homes to northern community members who travel to Edmonton for medical treatment.

Through the project, parishes have gained intimate knowledge of the emotional and cultural needs of the communities, said Ouellette.

The SSVP model in Edmonton of working with the Mackenzie-Fort Smith communities is being picked up in other areas of Canada, said Ouellete.

As many as 40 communities in the Canadian Arctic may be in need of help, he said. In many cases, SSVP conferences in Ontario and Quebec would be close to the affected communities and thus better able to meet their needs.

In addition to clothing, bedding, household items and other necessities, the program ships items for special project building in the North.

MISSION HOUSE

This year, the project will help with refurbishing a mission house in Paulatuk. A company has been lined up to send windows this summer to replace all the broken windows.

"That will be a wonderful gift to the community to get that house back open again," said Hansen. "Generous donors in the South are making it possible for that to happen. It's quite exciting."

This month, Hansen will celebrate Mass at Edmonton's St. Thomas More Parish, one of the parishes that has provided donations to North of 60. He will share his thoughts with the parish about the project and encouraging them to continue, he said.

"They've been pretty generous so far."