Food Bank Supports Ontario’s Inuit with Digital Gift Cards

More than 550 people already registered for the Tungasuvvingat Inuit food security program

As the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic strains in-person services across the country, a program that offers digital grocery cards is helping some Inuit in Ontario gain easier access to food.

Rhonda Huneault is Food Security Manager for Tungasuvvingat Inuit, an Ottawa-based organization that provides support to Inuit living in urban communities.

Currently, one such support is a digital food bank service for individuals and families struggling to access food during the pandemic.

With donations from the Ottawa Food Bank, TI has provided food bank services since its inception in 1987, but when the pandemic hit in March 2020 and in-person services became difficult to provide, Huneault said the he organization had to find a new way to distribute food.

Initially, the team sent grocery gift cards to people in the program, Huneault said, but when some cards were lost in the mail and delivery delays impacted access to the food, the team moved to an online gift card system where people can redeem a code. to pay for food at participating grocery stores.

The food card program is open to all Inuit residents of Ontario, and the amount distributed is based on family size.

“It’s the best option for the province because there’s usually a Loblaws or an Independent or a Superstore even in small communities,” Huneault said.

Poverty continues to be a problem for many Inuit living in urban areas, Huneault said, and the stress of an ongoing pandemic has made it even harder for many to buy food.

“People who never experienced food insecurity are now suffering because the cost of food has gone up,” she said, referring to a report on food prices in Canada released by the University. Dalhousie who estimates that Canadians will pay between five and seven percent more for their food. groceries in 2022.

“We know that Inuit families tend to be larger, so this has an even greater impact on people who were already struggling with food insecurity,” Huneault said, adding the need was particularly clear during the pandemic. current wave of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

“In the first week since we opened on January 4, over 550 people have already signed up for the new food card. It’s like a tsunami,” Huneault said.

She said she and fellow food program team leader Billy Avakak were working 12-hour days to keep up with demand.

Although TI has for now moved its regular food bank services to the online gift card system, every Wednesday since August, Huneault and Avakak have been distributing country foods at the organization’s location in Vanier.

She said normally the organization would save traditional food for special occasions like community festivals. Yet with additional financial support from Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, Huneault and Avakak were able to share staple foods like caribou and seal meat on a weekly basis.

About 100 people showed up this Wednesday for the last traditional food giveaway, many of them “new people, faces we’ve never seen,” Akavak said.

“Everyone is so thrilled, and every time a new person comes in, they’re like, ‘Oh my god, you have traditional food,'” Huneault said.

Inuit living in Ontario can register for TI’s food card program online or by calling the organization. Residents without an email address can still enroll in the program and receive physical gift cards in the mail instead.

Michael N. Clark