Linda Tutt gives the thumbs-up as the St. Albert conference of SSVP’s North of 60 Project prepares a sea-can container for delivery to a northern community. Photo courtesy Linda Tutt

Project offers long-distance helping hand

By 
  • July 28, 2021

It began with Sr. Fay Trombley of Catholic Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception.

Upon settling into her new home of Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., over 15 years ago, she quickly noticed that this small hamlet nestled close to the Arctic Ocean perennially experienced shortages of food and goods.

She mobilized her contacts, particularly the Society of Saint Vincent De Paul (SSVP) in Alberta, to secure the items and funding to make a difference.

Her grassroots effort germinated into the SSVP North of 60 Project, an ambitious initiative executed by nine different parish teams, including eight in northern Alberta and one from Calgary. Each SSVP conference twins with a Northwest Territories municipality north of the 60th parallel as steep food and goods prices perpetrate impoverished conditions upon these communities.

Peter Ouellette of Edmonton, the organization head of the Western Region North of 60, forges partnerships with suppliers in multiple provinces and co-ordinates the seemingly daunting logistics in executing the annual delivery of eight sea-can containers full of non-perishable food items, household supplies and any other desired or required items.

Once the shipping container is loaded, it travels by truck to Hay River, then by barge that streams down the McKenzie River to drop-off points. There is a limited delivery window as these isolated locales are only accessible via scheduled charter flights for most of the year. This year’s journey begins in August.

Ouellette, who took over as regional co-ordinator from the late Calgarian Eileen Orsiuk, says each SSVP co-ordinator is asked to maintain a close dialogue with reps within their designated North of 60 community.

“We want to make sure that we are not sending anything that they don’t want or need — that’s one of our principles,” said the Edmonton native. “The other principle is once we start in a community, we don’t stop. This is not a short-term involvement at all. It is a long-term commitment to be involved in the community.

“Many people raise their eyebrows when I talk that way, but our intention is to help them as a basic food security program, but also for our team members to be aware of how we can help facilitate positive systemic change.”

Linda Tutt, the chair of SSVP’s St. Albert conference, has built friendships with many members of Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., thanks to making several visits to this intimate 400-member homestead over the past seven years.

“I remember my first visit when I got to witness a drumming celebration where the drummers were in beautiful traditional dress, and I became a good friend of the principal and some of the staff members at the (Helen Kalvak Elihakvik) school.

“Throughout the year I call them up and ask, ‘can you use this?’ For example, a retiree had a drafting table available. The principal said, ‘oh sure’ so I shipped that to the school for one of the high school classes to use.”

Tutt added that it delighted her on a later visit to see young people using the hockey sticks gifted by her husband, Larry, and his recreational teammates.

The SSVP North of 60 crew commends the generosity of Alberta Catholics for providing steady support the past decade (particularly in the pandemic-affected 2020 and 2021), whether it be food, other items or money.

Ouellette says he craves to again experience the days when families and individual parish members drive into the church parking lot on a Sunday to drop off their bag of flour and sugar.

“They get to drop off their items within the sea-can doors and everyone gets an opportunity to talk. We think these gatherings are the greatest part of the outreach. Because of COVID-19, we had to divert into a complete financial program. So, we put the word out that we need money to shop for the items.

“As much as this process was effective, it doesn’t achieve the objective we originally had of seeing the family or parishioner driving up to provide us with five or eight kg of flour, sugar and the like. That intimacy was much better than the money. I would much rather have 10 families go shopping and (each) give me $100 of groceries and have a chance to talk about it rather than have one financially sound parishioner provide me with $1,000.”

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