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YWCA Agvvik executive director Suny Jacob, left, director Rosemarie Wall, Amal Osman, Kiki Onalik and Pelagie Nutarariaq stand in front of the shelter in Apex on Aug. 6. The shelter has "been blessed" with considerable donations of food this year. - Myles Dolphin/NNSL photo

Shelter is flush with food
YWCA in Apex defies odds by getting more and more donations

Myles Dolphin
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 12, 2013

Access to food has always been an important issue for Northerners, and Baffin Island is no exception.

Exorbitant prices mean food, especially healthy food, is harder to come by for a lot of Iqaluit families.

With shelters and soup kitchens in southern cities feeling the pinch, it's no easy task for organizations to get food donations, considering how valuable the commodity is here.

The YWCA shelter in Apex, however, is reversing the trend. It's made great strides in procuring more and more food donations over the years.

"We've been blessed this summer," said YWCA Agvvik executive director Suny Jacob.

"In the previous years, there was less food but now, more and more people are becoming aware of the shelter. We get country food donations from mining corporations, local conferences, hunters, fishers, women in other communities. We receive a lot of excess food."

Established in 1987 in Apex, the shelter went under the name of Baffin Regional Agvvik Society until 2010, when it became a full member of the YWCA Canada organization. One of the many benefits of membership is being able to expose women to other cultures and experiences through empowering workshops abroad, such as in Barbados.

"It's also increases the sense of hope," said director Rosemarie Wall. "It shows them there is something else out there other than Iqaluit."

The food is coming in for a reason. The shelter, which partners with most services in Iqaluit, has a dedicated board and staff working tirelessly to hold fundraising and workshop events on a regular basis.

In fact, three separate workshops for women are scheduled to begin in September and October.

Jacob said one of the keys to success has been spreading the word.

"We receive women from all over Baffin Island," Jacob said. "Awareness is getting better. When women go back to their communities they also send us country foods, which otherwise we wouldn't have access to."

On top of supporting women, the shelter also has an outreach program with a full-time outreach worker, as well as a senior management team made up of four counsellors to provide support to hospitals, court, family counselling, and other organizations.

The shelter operates at between a 100 per cent and 110 per cent occupancy rate most months of the year.

It also acts as a food distribution centre to the Oqota men's shelter, the Iqaluit soup kitchen and the Iqaluit Elders Home.

"We'd still like to see more food," Jacob said, "As our demands are quite a lot."

Shelter chef Sherry Shorthouse does her best to promote healthy eating and expose the women to as many culinary experiences as possible.

She said she's able to share foods that are no longer "retail perfect" such as over-ripe bananas, or foods about to pass their best-before date.

"This helps us a lot with our food budgets and keeps viable food out of the landfill," she said.

"We also get finished foods such as catering trays from the hotels and organizations that have special functions and find they have remainder stock of good, prepped foods ready for consumption. We also encourage people who are moving away to donate their sealift canned and dry foods to the cause."

Shorthouse cited the importance of not wasting food that could easily help people improve their diets, especially children.

A new website for the shelter is scheduled to be completed in September.

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