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Couple and their team enjoy volunteering to help food programs in Baker Lake

The regular volunteer team for the breakfast-in-a-bag program in Baker Lake are Darlene Nukik-Amaruq, left, her husband Aquilla Amaruq, Victoria Amarook, Leah Nukik, Akulaak Amaruq, Darcy Amaruq and Amanda Amarook. photo courtesy Darlene Nukik-Amaruq

The husband-and-wife duo of Aquilla Amaruq and Darlene Nukik-Amaruq, along with their band of volunteers, have been doing their best to help folks out a little with food items for quite awhile now in Baker Lake.

Nukik-Amaruq, who is the chief economic development officer for the Hamlet of Baker Lake, said it all started about a decade ago when her children were much smaller and they all had a lot of visitors to the family home.

She said during that time she was learning to cook like she was cooking for an army.

“The idea just came to me at that time to start taking all the leftovers to our arena, so I went to the local radio station to announce that there was free leftover hot food that could be picked up at the arena,” said Darlene.

“We had a really good turnout that first time, so my husband and I decided we should try preparing everything at home and talk to the arena crew about if the kitchen was available there to serve in every now and then.

“Our hot lunch program began as once a month and then, when I was off work for a couple of years, we got some funding help from the Northern store and the Kivalliq Inuit Association and started doing it weekly.

“My main team is four volunteers, including myself, and we took the time to prepare the ingredients, normally the night before, and then do all the prepping and cooking the next morning before delivering it to the arena.”

They stopped the hot lunch program when Nukik-Amaruq returned to work. But today, with Covid restrictions still in place for indoor gatherings, Nukik-Amaruq and her team have started brainstorming to look at possible ways they may be able to restart the program and deliver hot meals around the community.

Meanwhile, the Hamlet of Baker Lake had funding available and was looking for volunteers to continue on with the breakfast-in-a-bag program that local schools had started before the pandemic hit last March.

Nukik-Amaruq said the schools couldn't continue with the program once their students all returned to class.

She said she mentioned to the hamlet that her team of volunteers from the hot lunch program had been idle since her return to work and would be happy to volunteer their time to organize, plan and distribute for the breakfast program.

“The hamlet had enough funding to continue with the weekly program for six weeks when we did our first distribution with it on Dec. 12. We did have some trouble finding additional volunteers to help with it but, now that we're almost done, it seems to be easier finding volunteers.

“We distribute 100 bags each Saturday afternoon at the health and wellness building filled with a bag of oatmeal, pancake mix, muffin mix, eggs and a carton milk.

“We've had a couple of moms mention to us that their kids are learning to bake at home because of the muffin mix in the bag. And the program does help with food to families in the community, especially with the cost of living up here.

“The breakfast-in-a-bag program ends this week, but I have applied for funding to a couple of different places for my hot lunch program, so hopefully, that funding will come through and we'll be distributing the meals around the community or the arena will be reopened.”

Nukik-Amaruq’s husband, Aquilla Amaruq, said when they started the hot lunch program, he found it to be very rewarding, not in financial terms but in terms of his emotions and state of mind.

He said it had benefits he didn't really foresee.

“After we started the hot meal program, we began to see a wave of people giving away their leftovers on Facebook, free for pick up and all that, when before that they would try to sell,” said Amaruq.

“Something opened up and more people saw the need, and thought maybe they could do something too after seeing what we were doing.

“Sometimes, maybe, some of us might forget there are people struggling in our community and people were saying things on Facebook like they saw what this couple was doing and started to think maybe they could do something to help their fellow community members too.

“Helping out with the breakfast program while off from work at the mine (Meadowbank) was great, especially when I would see children with big smiles on their faces and so happy to have breakfast for the rest of the week.”