EDMONTON, Alberta –– Vowing that no Canadian child would ever go hungry, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has sent more than $200,000 worth of food and supplies to help hungry children in the Canadian Arctic.
Three communities in Canada's North will benefit from the aid, which includes dry food, clothing, freezers, sewing machines and even bicycles. The project began in spring 2012 after the society learned of urgent needs in the Arctic.
"I was shocked to learn there were some hungry children in the community of Paulatuk (Northwest Territories) in the Arctic Circle," recalled Peter Ouellette, president of the society in Western Canada, which covers Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
"My commitment and our commitment with St. Vincent de Paul is we will not have hungry children in Canada and in the Arctic Circle," he said.
Until recently, the main focus of the society's Arctic outreach had been in the Northwest Territories community of Tuktoyaktuk, where truckloads of supplies are regularly sent. The most recent truck arrived in April.
"We realized we should be expanding our efforts up in the Arctic, particularly in the Mackenzie-Fort Smith Diocese, but also further east into the Diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay in the Northwest Territories," he said.
Volunteers named the venture the North of 60 Project and established the North of 60 Committee to tackle it.
After assessing the needs in the far north, committee members chose three communities to help in addition to Tuktoyaktuk. Selected were Inuvik, where a local Nigerian priest needs help for the soup kitchen; Paulatuk, where children go hungry on a monthly basis; and Gjoa Haven, a hamlet in Nunavut which had long been asking for support.
The committee aligned each of the chosen communities with parishes in Edmonton and Winnipeg, Manitoba. Edmonton's St. Thomas More Parish, for example, is aligned with the community of Paulatuk; St. Timothy Parish in Winnipeg works in Gjoa Haven.
Both parishes, as well as Annunciation Parish in Edmonton and St. Michael's Parish in Leduc, Alberta, held donation drives.
"We were able to load up enough donations of food, boxes of clothing, sewing machines, fabric, some freezers, dry food and several other items that they asked for, including bicycles and vestments for one of the priests," Ouellette said.
At the society's request, Landtran Systems, a Calgary, Alberta-based international transport company, offered to bring large containers from Hay River, Northwest Territories to Edmonton to be loaded. They are now headed to Hay River, where they will be put on a barge and sent to the northern communities.
The containers will also serve as warehouses for the food throughout the year.
"They'll be very careful and cautious in the distribution of the food," Ouellette explained. "It will not go out quickly. It will go out only to those people who are in need over the year."
Ouellette said if the need persists, the society will ship goods north annually. He estimated the total cost of the project, had everything been purchased, at "maybe" $200,000. "But my actual cash cost was less than $6,000."
Children in the Arctic go hungry because families have low incomes and food costs are high. Arctic communities usually get only one major shipment of food a year — by barge.
"Everything else has to be flown in, and when you fly in food the costs are huge," Ouellettte said.
For example, a flat of bottled water that Edmontonians can buy for $3 costs $100 in the Arctic because of the weight of the product, he said.