There aren’t that many people in northwestern Ontario that would describe the region’s recent deep freeze as relieving or lucky. But standing outside a handful of shipping containers at Secure Store on a frigid Thursday morning, Volker Kromm and Rod Brown count themselves among the few to disagree.
The two men formed a unique partnership to split costs and shipping space to transport necessary food and equipment north to 16 remote First Nations.
However, before that could happen, temperatures had to drop low enough for the ice roads to come together. Just a few weeks ago, Rod Brown worried that wouldn’t happen.
“Luckily with this cold snap — which I’m quite happy about — that’s happened over the last couple of weeks, that’s sort of saved that situation,” said the manager for the Nishnawbe Aski Police Services’ far north radio project.
NAPS far north radio project continues
The project will see a radio communication system installed and bring centralized call taking and dispatching services to 23 northern NAPS communities.
It began in the summer of 2019 and will enhance community and officer safety, according to the NAPS 2019-2020 annual report. It is also a system that every other police service in Ontario has long had.
As part of that work, Brown had to transport generators and fencing to a number of the communities by March 31 to provide back-up power in case of power outages. He says the best option was to ship the generators in a shipping container by ice road.
“That’s when I realized that [the generators] were only using half of the space, and so I reached out to the RFDA to see if they wanted to partner with NAPS and bring food to the communities,” said Brown.
RFDA always on lookout for cost-saving ways to ship food north
Volker Kromm, executive director of the Regional Food Distribution Association, says they jumped on board immediately.
“This was an opportunity that was just perfect timing … we are always looking for affordable ways to get food to those communities that are harder for us to access,” Kromm said.
The RFDA kicked in $50,000 to help with the costs and are working to fill 13 of the shipping containers with three skids of frozen food that will start being shipped north next week.
“It’s all frozen product … we have fish, we have turkey and chicken. So it’s all high-value protein for them,” Kromm said. “We also committed to a truckload of crab. We’re taking deli meats.”
But the containers themselves will serve dual purpose for the First Nations.
“The intent of the containers is they’ll be owned and managed by the community, and so when we ship food in the future, hopefully there will be a space for them to go.
“The problem is when we go there now, they’re running around trying to find a locker of space somewhere,” Kromm added. “Now we have dedicated food security space for them.”
And looking forward, those dedicated spaces are expected to grow as the RFDA continues its work with Agriculture Canada to procure and send 40-foot climate-controlled shipping containers into the remote First Nations.