There have been challenges along the way, but a Baker Lake thrift store officially opened its doors on May 11.
The store is being run by the Abluqta Society and profits from the venture will be used to fund a food bank for the community.
The idea for the society and store came about when Erin Strachan of Performance Management Consultants delivered an employment training program in Baker funded by the career development division of the Department of Family Services in 2016.
The program is designed to help people with disabilities or other difficulties find work.
When members of Baker's health and wellness committee mentioned the need for a thrift store in the community to Strachan – who already felt her course participants were in need of work experience – the seeds were planted for the creation of the Abluqta Society and the thrift store.
Joseph Arnasungaaq is president of the society, while Sharon Alerk will be managing the thrift store.
Strachan said she also learned of the need of a food bank in Baker, with the last one in the community closing its doors in 2015.
The thrift store is open two days a week – Thursday and Saturday.
“We actually just got started with the food bank side of things this past week,” she said. “The society held a bingo recently to raise some more funding for the store and it's going to use some of the proceeds from the bingo to buy the first items for the food bank and distribute them to 10 families in need in Baker just to get started. We are, at the same time, working to find more sustainable funding for the food bank side of the operation.”
Strachan said the thrift store received a seacan full of donated items from the Ikurraq Food Bank (Deacon's Cupboard) in Rankin Inlet to get the operation off to a good start.
She said since opening, the store has been receiving a lot of donated items from people in the community.
“The items have been coming from people moving to the south again, people working on rotation with Agnico Eagle Mines and some people who just had some items to donate,” she said.
Clothing donations used to be left in a community hall for people to come and rifle through the bags looking for whatever they needed but members of the wellness committee didn't think that was a very dignified way of doing things, said Strachan.
“We hope, it's better for the community to have a store people can go to for their thrift items,” she said. “They do have to pay a little something for them – the items are very reasonably priced – but it's providing a supply of used clothing and household items, while also raising money to support the food bank.”
Strachan said the Abluqta Society have been developing this initiative for the past three years and it has been a real challenge to secure funding to get the operation up and running.
“It's taken a lot of volunteer effort and organization to get it to the point where it is now, and I'm really hopeful we'll be able to find some long-term funding going forward,” she said. “The volunteer food bank in Baker that closed in 2015 ran for 25 years solely on bingos. They'd, basically, hold a bingo and then buy food and distribute it in the community.”
“The thing was; a lot of times the same people who were playing bingo also needed food, so it wasn't, perhaps, the most ethical way of doing it, but the fact of the matter is there are a lot of hungry people in Baker Lake, and elsewhere in Nunavut for that matter,” she added. “It would be ideal to have some way of generating revenue for the food bank side of things that doesn't involve gambling, and we're really trying to make that happen.”
Strachan said Susan Toolooktook, a community elder, pretty much ran the previous food bank in Baker by herself and is now on the Abluqta Society committee.
She said Toolooktook is simply an incredible person.
“Susan has a disability in that she's deaf, but she's the best hunter in town. She'll go out by herself on a -40 C day and come back with a muskox or a caribou,” she said. “Back on Valentine's Day in 1985, she did a Walk for Love – she actually did two back-to-back marathons by herself with just her dog – to raise awareness about food insecurity in Baker Lake.”
“It will be very, very good for Susan to get to see this come together in her lifetime because she devoted so much of her love and energy into wanting to see people in Baker have enough food,” she said.