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Kitchen losing driving force
Departing volunteers honoured for helping to feed the needy

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Friday, May 15, 2015

For five years, Cathy Sawer has arrived first thing every weekday to keep the Qayuqtuvik Soup Kitchen running at top form. But now she and her surgeon husband, Dr. Ben Sawer, are preparing to move to Yellowknife, ending an eight-year relationship with the city.

NNSL photo/graphic

Cathy Sawer laughs as her husband Ben jokes with Nunavut Commissioner Edna Elias as she pins a Commissioner's pin to his sweater. The pair were honoured for their volunteerism with the Qayuqtuvik Soup Kitchen over the past five years. - Casey Lessard/NNSL photo

"She was here at eight o'clock every morning for almost five years, and has enjoyed it and done a great job," said Ben. "I'm very proud of her."

The couple had been spending part of the year in the city for three years prior to moving, and Ben encouraged Cathy to get involved in the early days.

"Once you get into something like this, it's like running a home," Cathy said. "You do all the stuff you do in a home, clean the bathroom, make sure the floors are swept, mother the volunteers that come. We did not want to leave town. There's a new surgeon coming back that the government trained and he gets the full-time position because he owes them five or six years of service."

Nunavut Commissioner Edna Elias, who was also set to move out of Iqaluit after five years of public service, honoured the pair with the Commissioner's Award for Volunteerism May 10.

"I think my wife deserves this far more than I," Ben told the crowd who was enjoying a treat after a community concert at St. Jude's Cathedral. "I got paid for what I did. God will reward her in heaven and she has been rewarded by the love and affection some of you have been able to show her. She considers you family. She has had a great problem in the last two weeks imagining not being here."

She's not alone. Board secretary Wade Thorhaug is concerned about keeping the soup kitchen running while the society loses many key volunteers, including the Sawers.

"We usually need about five to seven volunteers a day, but having someone in there regularly is almost essential in order to ensure the kitchen is stocked and the building properly maintained," said Thorhaug, who is in charge of volunteer co-ordination. "I've heard these cycles are fairly common, but it seems pretty dire to me when half of the board - and most of its active members - and a chunk of the regular volunteers should all leave within the span of a few months."

He said he believes the soup kitchen will not have to reduce its schedule yet - volunteers feed 90 to 100 people weekdays from 12 to 1 p.m. and weekends from 5 to 6 p.m. - but it will take some work and leaning by the remaining board members.

"Worst case scenario is that we can't find the people and an institution which people have relied upon for a degree of food security is no longer available everyday," he said.

Those considering helping to stop that from happening will be encouraged to know that it's a fulfilling experience, Cathy Sawer said.

"I've had the best time at the soup kitchen. It has been a joy. Lovely, thankful, grateful people. It's been fun. It's been a blessing to me as much I'm sure to a few of the people who came hungry or just wanted to come down."

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