North of 60 members gather supplies for hungry Arctic people.
Vowing that no Canadian child would ever go hungry, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SSVP) 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 with the aid, which includes dry food, quality clothing, freezers, sewing machines, even bicycles. The project began a little over a year ago 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 in the Arctic Circle," recalled Peter Ouellette, president of the society in Western Canada, which involves Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, the 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."
Up to that point, the primary focus of SSVP had been the community of Tuktoyaktuk, where it had sent truckloads of supplies, including one last 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 Hudson Bay-Churchill in the Northwest Territories."
SSVP aptly named this venture the North of 60 Project and established a working group called the North of 60 Committee to tackle it.
After a needs assessment, the North of 60 Committee picked three communities to help, in addition to Tuktoyaktuk. They selected Inuvik, where the local Nigerian priest needs help for the soup kitchen, Paulatuk, where children go hungry on a monthly basis, and Gjoa Haven, which had long been asking for support.
The committee aligned each of the chosen communities with well-to-do parishes in Edmonton and Winnipeg. Edmonton's St. Thomas More Parish, for example, is aligned with the community of Paulatuk and St. Timothy's Parish in Winnipeg is aligned with Gjoa Haven.
These parishes, in conjunction with Annunciation Parish in Edmonton and St. Michael's Parish in Leduc, held drives for donations.
"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 SSVP's request, Landtran Systems, a Calgary-based international transport company, volunteered to bring the big containers from Hay River to Edmonton to be loaded up. They are now headed to Hay River where they will be put on a barge and go 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 pointed out. "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, SSVP will do the same thing on an annual basis. He estimates 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 due to, among other things, low incomes and the high cost of food. Arctic communities like Paulatuk usually get only one major shipment of food per year by barge.
"Everything else has to be flown in," explained Ouellette. "And when you fly in food the costs are huge."
A flat of water that Edmontonians can buy for $3, he said, is $100 in the Arctic because of the weight of the water.
Call Peter Ouellette at 780-690-1919 if you want to be involved in this project.