Delivering healthy food packs to children facing summer hunger in the Far North

When Shontell MacInnis was working as a teacher in Iqaluit, she remembers how serious an issue summer child hunger was for her students.

Now on the board of directors for the Niqinik Nuatsivik Nunavut Food Bank in Iqaluit, MacInnis says Canadians need to work together to ensure sufficient access to safe and nutritious food for children in the Far North — especially during the summer months when school-based meal and snack programs are not in session.

“When I was a teacher, the need was so apparent,” MacInnis says of the summer hunger gap in Nunavut’s only city. “When the school year ends, After the Bell bridges that gap.”

Working to address food insecurity in Northern Canada

Indigenous communities in all three territories have been particularly affected by the impact of colonization, which forced many people into relying on store-bought goods rather than hunting and harvesting traditional food. Northern and remote communities also contend with a lack of employment opportunities, limited income options aside from social assistance, and food costs that are not only sky-high, but extremely volatile as well.

In Iqaluit, which has a growing population of more than 7,700, a nutritious food basket to feed a family of four cost $1,721.56 in March 2018. In Ottawa, it would have cost $868.47.*

These factors may be why 57 per cent of households in Nunavut are considered food insecure, and why MacInnis says the After the Bell program is so impactful for communities in the Far North.

After the Bell in Iqaluit

To help kids facing summer hunger from coast to coast to coast, Food Banks Canada worked with our corporate partners to deliver 175,000 healthy food packs to over 190 communities through the After the Bell program in 2022, including Iqaluit and nine other communities in Northern Canada.

The 2,800 healthy food packs that were transported thousands of kilometres to the Niqinik Nuatsivik Nunavut Food Bank in Iqaluit were delivered on a donated flight that took off on May the 4th, thanks to our in-kind sponsor, Nolinor.

“You can see it on their faces – they’re so happy when they get the packs,” MacInnis says of the After the Bell distribution days. “They definitely like the fresh fruit – they are always excited about that.”

Getting fresh food to fly-in communities

Thanks to Food Banks Canada’s Fresh Food Partner, Subway Canada, the Niqinik Nuatsivik Nunavut Food Bank and all other food banks involved in the After the Bell program also received a grant to add fresh fruits and vegetables to every food pack before distribution.

In the Yukon, where the cost of a single apple can be as high as $2.50, Food Bank Society of Whitehorse Executive Director Dave Blottner says being able to add fresh fruits and vegetables to the healthy food packs delivered through After the Bell makes a huge difference in the lives of community members.

With fuel prices and freight rates continuing to increase, Blottner adds that some of the fresh and healthy foods included in the 840 food packs delivered to the Food Bank Society of Whitehorse this year may not have been accessible to local children otherwise.

“The apples! And the granola…” Blottner says. “A lot of the foods in the packs are not easily accessible where we are because of the high cost — so they go over huge with the kids here.”

‘Together, we are stronger’

To meet the immediate need for accessible, healthy food in northern communities when critical in-school meal programs come to an end, MacInnis says she hopes the After the Bell program will continue to grow.

“When there’s a lineup and we’re giving out the last bag and there are still families in line, it’s heartbreaking,” MacInnis says. “I hope that the grants can continue.”

There are several ways to make a difference in the movement to end hunger once and for all.


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