A Sea-Can shipping container, jam-packed with 4,600 pounds of food and 700 pounds of clothing from Edmonton, is on a two-month journey to a remote community in the Northwest Territories.
The container is being shipped some 3,000 kilometres over land and sea to Fort Good Hope, a community of about 500.
“Food will be the biggest benefit. It’s urgently needed; the poverty is very evident,” said Roger Plouffe, who serves in the community as a lay minister with the Church of Our Lady of Good Hope.
Plouffe is a former chair with the liturgy committee at St. Thomas More Parish in Edmonton, where the Sea-Can was filled. He used his connections to extend the efforts of the North of 60 project to Fort Good Hope.
This is the second container the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has shipped to the town as part of its North of 60 project, which has been helping communities in Canada’s North for more than a decade. The first was sent in 2016.
Once the container arrives at Our Lady of Good Hope Church, the items will be sorted, unloaded and stored there for the community. The container itself will be used for community storage.
“The clothing donations will be kept at our church’s mission house, and some of the food items will be stored in the basement,” said Heather Bourassa, who was born and raised in Fort Good Hope.
“We focused on heavier items like bags of flour, sugar, even coffee and rice, those kinds of bulkier things. The transportation costs are really high, and those sorts of staple items can be really expensive for us. A lot of items like lumber and other food will stay in the Sea-Can.”
Bourassa said the container will be a huge help to the people of Fort Good Hope, a largely Dene community that has an unemployment rate of 22.9 per cent and is grappling with poverty and homelessness.
“It’s very exciting to know that the help is there and that our parish can do more for our community,” she said. “Instead of just wishing we could do something, we now have the support of a larger centre to make a big difference.”
Last spring, Lou Normand, a member of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul at St. Thomas More, volunteered to take the lead with this charitable initiative.
“There are some kids up there who don’t eat for a day or two, so that’s really the focus,” said Normand. “But we only wanted to send the things they need and then bring that information back to our parish. We want to make sure we don’t send up too much food to encroach on the local businesses up there.”
After appealing for donations at the beginning of May, society volunteers were quickly met with hundreds of contributions from Edmonton and across Canada.
“We even have fabric and some sewing machines,” Normand said. “Some of that is coming from as far as Ottawa. We’ve had a tremendous amount of donations.”
Hardware supplies, tools and lumber are also being sent in the container as well as donated hockey sticks, pads and other sports equipment for kindergarten to Grade 12 students at Chief T’Selehye School.
“The sporting equipment will definitely improve morale for the children here; it will give them the chance to participate more in sports,” Bourassa said.
Thanks to the help of some young Catholics at the St. Thomas More, the container features a colourful depiction of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a patroness of Indigenous peoples.
“I feel really blessed,” said Emma Wang, a Grade 9 student at Louis St. Laurent Catholic School who helped painted the image.
“My artwork will be somewhere out there and a lot of people will see it. It feels really good that it will have all these things that can help people ̶ I think they’ll appreciate it a lot.”
Wang said decorating the Sea-Can was especially significant for her personally. The teen has Asperger Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism.
“Sometimes it feels like a lot of people are looking down on me, like I’m not skilled. This was a chance at leadership, and I was very excited.”
James Cote, 12, was also proud to have played his part in painting the container.
“It was incredible,” he said. “It feels good that I’m helping these people out, and since they are believers in Mary, I hope it will be very powerful.”
The container is currently being transported to Hay River and will eventually be taken to Fort Good Hope by barge. The community is only accessible by air during the spring and fall. A road is cleared during the winter freeze, and boats travel to and from the community by river in the summer. The limited transportation to Fort Good Hope makes food access a serious obstacle.
While the water transportation costs are covered by the Northwest Territories government, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul paid a total of $60,000 for the Sea-Can, some materials, and the land transport.
The shipment is expected to arrive sometime this summer, likely around mid-July. For many in Fort Good Hope, it will be a surprise. Bourassa said she’s not quite sure how they will roll out the news, but predicted residents will be excited and thankful.
This year the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is sending containers to seven other communities. They help northern and Arctic communities by providing food security, proper nutrition and other needed materials. The society collaborates with a variety of organizations to collect much-needed resources.
Bourassa said the help for Fort Good Hope could not have happened without Plouffe, who spends 10 months a year there preaching, performing baptisms and marriages, and helping wherever he can.
“Roger helps people fix their furnaces, runs a first aid course, even does guarding at the police station when they need help – it just goes on and on,” said Bourassa. “Being the caretaker at the church, he has a lot of insight into the people’s needs. Without Roger we wouldn’t even have known we can do this.”