The Covid-19 crisis has dashed countless plans across the NWT while it has also spurred the formation of new ones.
Mackenzie Mountain School in Norman Wells is no exception and it could perhaps pen a new aphorism for its own situation: if you can’t cook for the community, help the community cook for itself.
While Norman Wells has historically been more prosperous than other remote NWT communities because of its oil wealth, the pandemic has still taken a toll on the town and there are families who are in need of help with food.
“We were not as negatively affected (as some places) but there are still business in town struggling and families not able to get food. That’s why Norman Wells started a food bank at the town office. There are still people struggling and trying to find employment,” said Mackenzie Mountain principal Michael Duclos.
The Sahtu town’s only school was planning on opening cooking courses and working with the Norman Wells Land Corporation to prepare a big feast for the community.
But during the school’s spring break in mid-March the pandemic emerged, thwarting the planned feast.
As a backup, the JK to Grade 12 school began a breakfast delivery program for a handful of families which then grew to include 24 families, said Duclos.
“We received money from Nutrition North. We received a big order (of food) on the winter road before it closed,” he said.
“We put together food hampers and recipes to go along with the food. Nutrition North wanted the education piece to be important too. (They) told us not to just give out free food but to promote healthy eating with the recipes.”
Duclos noted that the assistance from Nutrition North was separate from the $25 million in assistance the federal government gave to the program as part of a pandemic aid package for the North.
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The contents of the hampers included vegetables, frozen fruit, sauces, meat, turkeys, milk, flour, taco kits, condiments and cooking supplies. Based on those items, school staff wrote up recipes for lasagna, chili, soups, desserts and other dishes.
The hampers, distributed on a first-come first-served basis were left outside the school on Tuesday around 11 a.m. and parents picked them up. It was popular enough that all of them were given out by noon. The total value of the 43 hampers was in the thousands of dollars, Duclos said.
Social media and emailed messages of gratitude for the program have been coming in as fast as the hampers went out.
“I've only heard amazing things. People seem very thankful. Tons of ‘Thank yous’, tons of ‘Mahsis.' Even though some families are in disarray they appreciate the school is still trying to give back to the community.”
Duclos is also thinking of starting a cooking contest and inviting families to submit photos of the dishes they made with the hampers.
“The most important thing is for the kids to be fed. We wanted our kids to get healthy breakfasts and so they could learn online and learn experientially on the land. We wanted to help anyone we could during this tough time.”