A helping hand from Ponoka reaches out to alleviate hunger in the north

Inflated food prices and a lack of supporting resources are leaving those inhabiting Canada’s remote north

A family who has received aid through the Helping Our Northern Neighbours initiative send thanks for the case that was sent to them via the Prince George

A family who has received aid through the Helping Our Northern Neighbours initiative send thanks for the case that was sent to them via the Prince George

Inflated food prices and a lack of supporting resources are leaving those inhabiting Canada’s remote north with few options other than going hungry. This situation has prompted a Ponoka woman to open her heart over the holiday season and sponsor a Nunavut family in need.

“I decided to get involved because nobody should be going hungry due to unaffordable, ridiculous food prices. We need to step in and help and also be writing our MP. This has to stop,” said Kristen Hihn.

“When I first realized this situation was going on in Canada my mind was blown. I know that there is poverty. But down here in the south, we have many resources to help, unlike up north,” she added.

After images of grocery prices in provinces such as Nunavut went viral and the knowledge that individuals were scouring waste dumps for their next meal, people in southern Canada began to realize the crisis fellow Canadians faced. It was from this the grassroots initiative that Helping Our Northern Neighbours was born.

At the helm of the project is humanitarian Jennifer Gwilliam, Shawnigan Lake B.C., who began her battle by increasing awareness of the issue with the Facebook page Helping Our Northern Neighbours, which was founded Aug. 6, 2014.

Sponsorship

Hihn joined the Facebook page and contacted Gwilliam, who has a master list of more than 400 families needing help. She decided to sponsor a family and underwent a 24-hour matching period.

People can choose just to send one box or become a sponsor and send four boxes minimum, annually.

“I contacted Jennifer with no real preference on a family . . . some people chose to pick a family similar to their own as it helps them feel connected,” said Hihn.

After being matched with a family those in the southern provinces are provided with a list of needs for each family, including toilet paper and sugar. “All things no one should live without, let alone in Canada.”

The family Hihn sponsors (which cannot be named due to confidentiality mandates by the program) lives within a village of approximately 1,000 people. Six months out of the year, there is access by road and the other half of the year is fly in only.

Hihn is a member of the Edmonton chapter, which focuses mainly on Kugaarik village, but sponsors can be placed with families from any community in need.

Many villages in northern Canada are so small they only support one grocery store, which results in extreme food prices. “Those stores are able to charge $140 for a pot roast or $20 for a jug of milk and sell moldy bread and you have no choice in the matter except to go hungry,” said Hihn.

The north also lacks the resources the rest of Canada is accustomed to. In December, the matriarch of Hihn’s sponsor family helped set up a food bank in her community, a noticeable rarity up there. The community holds bingos and uses the money raised to purchase noodle cups, distributing two cups per family.

“They took the initiative to help themselves and need a helping hand in getting it up on the right foot so please join our group and make a difference,” said Hihn.

“Since early December me and the mom have built a strong friendship. We truly appreciate each other and have built something no one else can replace. It’s hard to explain, but it brings so much joy to help someone when they truly need it,” she added.

Heft prices

In northern Canada, basic groceries are set to break the bank for struggling residents. A prime rib oven roast costs $138.79 (the Ponoka equivalent, $15.05); Golden Oreos, $14.49 ($4.29); Tide laundry pods, $43.99 ($5.49); Minute Maid juice boxes, $19.99 ($4. 59); pre-packaged celery, $13.59 ($2.99); beef tenderloin, $95.36 ($25.32, approximately).

Hihn says residents try to hunt to support themselves between grocery meals but those who live in town do not have many opportunities to travel to hunt, due to gas prices, and animals are not often found near town sites.

Government subsidies vary throughout Canada’s north, but average around $300 per person per month. “Which does not go very far when your average grocery bill for a week is $900 that doesn’t include the oil to heat your home or the gas to hopefully use your skidoo,” said Hihn.

The initiative is being called a band-aid solution to bring awareness to the issue, but Hihn says those with the means need to step forward and make a difference, including the government. “Maybe instead of government members taking private jets themselves, they can use these private jets to bring food to the starving and do what is right and what every human deserves.”