Whitehorse Knows Northern Hunger

*Header image provided by Label 428

Guest blog provided by Tristan Newsome, Executive Director of Food Bank Society of Whitehorse.

We had a great summer, marked by some historic events for the Whitehorse Food Bank. For the first time since we opened our doors in 2009 we saw a reduction in people accessing our services. We took the opportunity to catch our breath, revaluate some of our services, and assist other organizations with the macro aspect of our mandate, one which we have rarely had the opportunity to focus on; supporting the greater effort to alleviate poverty. We accomplished some great things, such as publishing a comprehensive data analysis that took all client usage information from 2009 till 2017. This report, in partnership with other data collected by hardworking organizations in the Yukon will help serve as a point of reference demonstrating that access to affordable housing and nutritious food is essential to poverty reduction. It was a good summer, but as anyone familiar with the North can attest to the time of the midnight sun was short lived.

Something that will come as a surprise to no one is the Northern territories of Canada can get cold, really cold. By mid-October it had started snowing, and by the first week of November temperatures were dropping down to -20. With rental prices already high in the North, these winter temperatures put the nail in the budget coffin of anyone living on the poverty line. To provide some anecdotal insight, my own small condo has a monthly heating bill of over $250 during the winter months. And that is a relatively new building, so if you consider older buildings with dated insulation those prices can become exorbitant. This is not to reflect poorly on the companies providing power; it is just a reality of living in such a cold environment.

Additionally the price of food in Northern Canada is amongst the highest in the country. Those costs increase drastically the farther removed the community is; for people living in those remote communities food access at all can be in question. However even families living in a large Northern city like Whitehorse have to make some pretty tough decisions, especially when children are involved. Do you purchase greater quantities of food at the cost of nutrition? Or do you purchase nutritious food but sacrifice quantity? In recent years our food bank has worked towards making that decision a little easier for our clients by increasing the amount of nutritious and locally sourced produce we provide. Through partnerships with schools, the Territorial government, and local farmers we are able to provide our clients with potatoes, carrots, and beets grown right here in the Yukon almost all year round.

As the temperature drops, the number of people needing assistance increases. However, despite the cold temperatures and long nights there is a certain warmth to this place. The Whitehorse community is simply amazing. The support we receive from businesses, schools, individuals, governments, and other organizations is consistent and generous year round. We could not possibly continue to support hungry individuals and families without their help, especially during these winter months.

Northern folk are proud of their communities and of their land. Despite the dark cold, most wouldn’t have it any other way.