Watson Lake soup kitchen serving record numbers

With the Liard First Nation government layoffs in Watson Lake showing no sign of ending, the soup kitchen and food bank are helping record numbers of families. 

With the Liard First Nation government layoffs in Watson Lake showing no sign of ending, the soup kitchen and food bank are helping record numbers of families.

The St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen usually sees about 15 people come in for soup when it’s open on Fridays, and about the same number of families needing a food hamper.

Since the government layoffs late last year, those numbers have been steadily climbing, said Fred Statham, who runs the soup kitchen and food bank.

“It’s actually gone up by about five or so on average. Since the layoffs we’re up to about 20 soups and 20 hampers, on average,” Statham said.

He said the numbers tend to spike towards the end of each month. At the end of February, 27 food hampers were handed out alongside 31 bowls of soup.

“It looks like the layoffs are having an impact,” Statham said.

There are so many people asking for food that Statham said the soup kitchen and food bank will likely open on Mondays as well as Fridays starting in April.

“Based on studying our numbers over the last two years, Mondays and Fridays seem to be the busiest days,” he said.

In his first move as the newly-elected chief, Daniel Morris laid off almost the entire Liard First Nation staff after he came to power in January. More than forty people in all were told there isn’t enough money to pay them.

Morris has not spoken publicly since the election. The First Nation’s executive director, George Morgan (who ran against Morris in the election) is the government’s spokesman.

He said that record numbers at the soup kitchen and food bank is news too him, but that his government is working diligently to sort out its financial woes and get people back to work.

“We completed our 2012/13 audit. That’s been done, but we’re doing some final touch-ups on that. We’re still trying to get an accurate picture of our current financial situation, which we don’t currently have yet,” Morgan said.

As soon as the government books are in order, the First Nation can begin hiring back its employees, Morgan said.

“We’re working very hard to get people back to work,” he said.

The First Nation’s finances are also being looked at by the federal government. The results of that audit are still pending.

Since the election, Morgan has blamed the previous administration for the government’s financial difficulties, laying the blame for the layoffs at former chief Liard McMillan’s feet.

McMillan has disputed that assertion. Under his leadership, the First Nation met its auditing responsibilities every year and never had to lay people off, he told the News in January. He also claimed that according to his record keeping, the government should have more than enough money in the bank to cover its payroll – which he says is around $50,000 per month – until the audits are finished and money starts flowing again.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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