Bit by bit, the Qajuqturvik Food Centre is shifting its focus from the old concept of a soup kitchen to a centre with a wide range of community-based programs intended to improve food security and food sovereignty.
“I’d say a lot of our work is basically just shedding the image of a soup kitchen, because it’s not just what we do. We do a lot more than that. And we’re trying to do increasingly more things,” said executive director Wade Thorhaug.
“There are people that have been in the community for many years and they have sort of preconceived notions about what we are as an organization. It surprises them to see the kinds of things that we’re doing.”
One example is the pre-employment culinary skills program. That program’s been offered several times since the fall of 2018. Thorhaug says some who enroll in the training don’t finish the program for a variety of reasons, some go on to other opportunities and some find work in the field. Some have also been employed by Qajuqturvik as support staff.
“The group we’re actually finishing up right now, most of them have offers with employers, either in town or in the territory,” said Thorhaug.
Mosesee Petooloosie has been taking the training during the third offering over the summer. He stretched into the experience when he was asked to work directly under the chef and coordinate other program participants.
“I like the crew here,” he stated on Qajuqturvik’s Facebook page.
“I’ve learned a lot about food safety, knife skills, leadership, teamwork. I didn’t realize how much responsibility a sous chef has. My goal is to work as a cook in a restaurant.”
Most recently, Qajuqturvik has been extending its reach outside Iqaluit thanks to funding from the Makigiaqta Inuit Training Corporation, along with funds from Indigenous Services Canada. While only one or two participants will come from outside Iqaluit this fourth round beginning in mid-September, Thorhaug says Qajuqturvik is just getting started.
“We have funding to operate it year-round for three years,” he said.
For those coming in from another community, housing is provided for the duration of the three-month program. That’s beyond the $15-per-hour training stipend.
“At some point, if we have the staffing capacity, we might actually set up workshops in other communities. But for the time being, we’re just we’re bringing people in,” Thorhaug said.
The food centre also has plans to extend its reach in Iqaluit. This complements the already-existing after-school programming for Iqaluit students.
“Last year we had two sessions a week with students from neighbouring Nakasuk School. Attendance was an average of 11 kids per session. Basically, the idea of that is just to get kids comfortable with food and getting them creative, getting their creative juices flowing, getting them comfortable with working in the kitchen or working with knives, and the rudimentary points of baking,” said Thorhaug, adding he’ll be dropping off applications at schools this week.
Beyond that, Qajuqturvik hired a food skills coordinator who will be starting in a couple of weeks.
“Her role will be to develop additional programming either around food skills or really just any sort of drop-in programming that might interest the community,” said Thorhaug. “We’ll definitely be conducting a community-wide survey consultation to determine what people want to see at this space.”
In the meantime, Qajuqturvik is looking to start with drop-in community kitchens, cooking classes and workshops on topics such as growing, composting, kombucha-making and fermentation.
And, of course, the food centre continues to offer its lunch service – serving up to 80 visitors a day – and, over the past year, until this summer, it provided the Uquutaq Men’s Society shelter with evening meals.
Qajuqturvik, which also depends on a group of 10 to 20 volunteers, will hold its annual general meeting sometime this fall.
“There’s still a lot more progress that can be made on this. I definitely want to reach out to the community more and try to get them involved. I want this to be seen as a place that people don’t feel they have to go, that they actually want to go to,” said Thorhaug.
“To remove that stigma of poverty because we want this to be a community organization of everybody, and nobody should have to feel shame for coming here. In order for that to happen, we need a lot of buy-in from people who don’t face food insecurity or issues of poverty in their lives.”
Note: This story was updated Sept. 7 to reflect that Qajuqturvik no longer provides evening meal service to the Uquutaq Men’s Society shelter.