How the Passion of One Food Banker in the North Helped Thousands

November 2019 was a month like no other for Billy Palluq, who now sits on the committeeof the Kangiqtugaapik Food Bank, as secretary treasurer. The local radio was playing as usual, and Billy was having his lunch when he heard Vera Kalluq’s desperate call for help. Vera, who is now the chair of the Kangiqtugaapik Food Bank, was struggling to provide food for her family. This heartfelt appeal touched Billy, and he felt compelled to help.

“At the end of November 2019, I heard Vera crying out through our local radio requesting help from food banks because she was having a hard time. I called her (and other people who reached out to help her) and asked them to meet with me at Hamlet Council Chambers. I had an idea”

Billy headed to the Hamlet Council Chambers with the hope that others would want to help too — all he needed was five people. With a background in economics and experience in grants and loans, Billy knew that the best thing to do was to incorporate a society, because they would then be able to apply for funds and grants.

“I was able to get six volunteers on board, including Vera.  I explained to them that we needed to incorporate in order to get funding. I wrote their names and addresses down and asked them to sign it (witnessed by our reception). I paid $50.00 to Nunavut legal registries to incorporate as a society. Once we were approved, I was able to apply for grants and other contributions. We picked Kangiqtugaapik Food Bank as our name, and we officially incorporated it as a society in December 2019”.

The roads ahead were not easy. As with most of the country, the pandemic made things challenging and Billy was not sure what to expect.

“Once registered, I knew I was going to be able to apply for funding through Inuit organizations, the government of Nunavut and the federal government. However, I faced numerous challenges trying to secure funds. It was more complicated than expected. Many organizations weren’t able to meet on a regular basis to look at funding applications due to COVID-19. I was devastated”.

But Billy did not give up. He called everyone he knew.

“I was determined to do what I could. I thought about other places I could apply and then it hit me. I applied to the department of Economic Development & Transportation under Country Food Distribution Program to hire hunters to go seal hunting. I asked the hunters to give the meat freely to the people who ask for it after they caught the seals. I also talked with Hunters & Trappersorganization, a local community centre to use their community freezer if there was leftover seal meat. Luckily, all seal meat was distributed as soon as they came back from seal hunting”.

But it was Food Banks Canada that really came through.

“In June 2020, I heard about Food Banks Canada’s Emergency Food Security Fund, which was funded by the government and submitted an application in the amount of a little bit over $45,000. In the same month, I also applied to Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) under Qikiqtani Cultural Activities Program (QCAP) to train our volunteers on how to skin the seal fur and prepare it to make clothes for our community. Then I got the call. Food Banks Canada contacted me saying they had approved my application”.

Excited about the call, Billy told his colleagues who were equally ecstatic. This meant everything to him. It meant that everything he worked for was not in vain. More Canadians in need would be able to feed their families.

“It was amazing to be approved for funding from Food Banks Canada. I notified our Chair Vera Kalluk right away and she was amazed. She was no longer crying like back in November. We were in an exciting panic mode for a moment. All our volunteers were extremely happy, including myself”.

Billy worked on the logistics right away. And the partnership between Food Banks Canada and Arctic Co-ops limited (ACL) was the key to successfully implementing the funding.

“Since we have no bank account and no bank in an isolated community like Clyde River, I contacted Duane Wilson, vice-president of Arctic Co-operatives Limited to see if they would be willing to receive the funds and ship the food from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Clyde River, Nunavut. ACL was happy to assist. What amazed me more was the fact that Food Banks Canada was willing to work with ACL to provide food for those in need even though we had no bank account. This did not matter. I thought to myself, Those are truly Canadians with a beautiful soul”.

After sorting out the logistics of funding, Billy could not wait to start the most exciting part of the work—distributing the food. But that also required some diligence. Transportation has always been an issue in northern communities, especially with the slippery roads and sometimes no access to any roads at all. But these obstacles didn’t stop him.

“I knew right away that I had to talk to the Hamlet administration here in Nunavut. When I asked if I could borrow a vehicle to pick up the food, Hamlet Administration was very proud and happily lent us a truck to pick up the food from the cargo. When we got there, Canadian North agents were extremely helpful and carried our food to the truck”.

Because the cost of living in the north is so expensive, a warehouse to keep food was not an option. So they had to be creative and use what was available to them.

“We can’t afford to have a building for our food bank so we used volunteers’ residential homes. When we got to their homes, we dispersed the food any way we could, to the south side, west and north side where all volunteers live, and there was always a lineup of at least 30 people waiting to pick up food and to this very day, I still hear people say “Thank you Billy for the food bank”. And those simple words always make me feel warm at heart”.

The volunteers had never done this job before, but they were willing to do whatever it took.

“All 4 volunteer women have taken a course at Ilisaqsivik Society on handling food, disinfecting the packages, practicing physical distancing, asking people if they are going to pick up food to call first so food can be put into bags and handed out as soon as they come to the door.  We have learned to be cautious, to wear masks when handing out food. Thankfully, there hasn’t been any cases of covid-19 in Clyde River, Nunavut”.

Everything just fell into place and Billy could not believe what Food Banks Canada was able to do.

“To this day, it still amazes me that my applications were approved. Food Banks Canada has done an excellent job of providing food and funding to food banks across Canada, including Nunavut (North). By working with organizations such as Arctic Co-operatives Limited. They showed that food can reach the furthest points of northern Canada—it can be done. . Nunavut has 23 stores in 24 Nunavut communities. Clyde River, the most isolated in the North is the only community without a Co-op store but we were still able to work with ACL to provide food. This would never have happened if Food Banks Canada hadn’t cooperated with ACL”.

And now through his local radio station, he hears a different story than the one he heard in November 2019.

There are less complaints about not having food and people thank me every time they see me at the store or anywhere in the community. Even the volunteers are grateful I was able to secure funds to get food from ACL and distribute it freely.