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Egg salad, conversation and kindness at Iqaluit’s only soup kitchen

Cathy Sawer taught nursing students in Kenya, and plans to return to the country with Samaritan’s Purse World Medical Mission.

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Cathy Sawer, volunteer, Qayuqtuvik Soup Kitchen

A B.C. native, Cathy Sawer, 62, has been living in Iqaluit and volunteering at the Qayuqtuvik Soup Kitchen, the community's only one, for the past three years. Some days she's shelling 220 eggs in 70 minutes to make hundreds of egg-salad sandwiches.

Ms. Sawer, mother of three and grandmother of five, now has the experience worthy of shows like Top Chef. From Captain Rus Blanchet of the Anglican Church, the head of the kitchen, Ms. Sawer has learned how to serve arctic char (frozen with soy sauce for dipping) and make caribou stew.

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A former teacher who taught biology, parasitology and fitness theory to nursing students in Kenya (she has a degree in zoology), Ms. Sawer believes that a meal, a smile and conversation make a difference in the lives of her clients.

First step

In 2010, when we first came to Iqaluit, there was an annual community signup for everything from library memberships to curling. My husband Ben [one of Iqaluit's few full-time surgeons, on call 24/7] signed me up for the soup kitchen. After 40 years of marriage he certainly knows me well!

Impact

We are open every weekday for lunch. We serve between 60 and 80 people per day, some as young as 2. Most of our clients are men in their 20s and 30s. The soup kitchen is bright and has become a place where people can take refuge for a few hours. Since it opened in 2009, approximately 60,000 meals have been served.

What keeps you going?

My Christian faith.

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Aha! moment

A while ago there were three preteen sisters who used to be regulars. Their mother passed away [suicide] and they were sent to live with relatives in another community. One evening, I was out for dinner and the girls must have been visiting with their grandparents because they, too, were in the restaurant. The youngest one, who is about 7 years old, walked over to me and without a word snuggled in and gave me a long hug.

What discourages you?

If I could, I would wave a magic wand and get rid of drugs, cigarettes and alcohol, because I have seen them destroy families.

What keeps you up at night?

The fact that people go hungry in other communities and the health and well-being of my grandchildren. I am a grandmother, after all.

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Donations

The kitchen receives about $20,000 a year from the Government of Canada and the City of Iqaluit. Local businesses and individuals donate a variety of items including fuel to keep the boiler going. Recently the Catholic Church, in recognition of a day of fasting, encouraged its parish to give the value of a day's food to the kitchen. As a result, we received $900. You can contact me at 1-867-979-4863.

What's next?

While we will eventually return to Kenya with Samaritan's Purse World Medical Mission, we are enjoying what we do now!

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Farah Mohamed is president and chief executive officer of the G(irls)20 Summit. Send suggestions for Action Figure to livebetter@globeandmail.com.

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