Grassroots Muslim group at forefront of fighting COVID-19 hunger in Waterloo Region

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Grassroots Muslim group at forefront of fighting COVID-19 hunger in Waterloo Region

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The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by surprise and there is no group this is truer for than Canadian Muslims as we have watched our holiest sites in Mecca be vacated for the first time in contemporary history and learned that, as the month of fasting in Ramadan approached, we would be unable to attend special congregational prayers and community meals after sunset at this special time of year.

However, for many Canadian Muslim groups, especially the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC), witnessing the subsequent economic catastrophe kicked organizers into high gear when it became apparent that Canadians would soon be facing additional hardship and hunger.

The existing grassroots structures of MAC alliances allowed local chapters to respond immediately to the crisis. In a matter of weeks, the national volunteer network of MAC, all the way from Vancouver to Montreal, worked quickly to fundraise for the existing MAC Food Share program at an unprecedented level.

Despite the economic turmoil across the country, the generosity of our existing donor base only increased. With nine major cities participating, Muslim youth volunteers have taken responsibility for the most vulnerable members of our shared communities by raising more than $125,000 and feeding more than 5,000 families.

With more than 18 participating community organizational partners, both the reach of the program and the sheer scope of community care undertaken have been heartening in this challenging time. It is a true testament to the expansive power of charitable organizations when the need is exponentially greater than normal.

In Waterloo Region, in particular, the program continues to help families put food on the table during the current financial insecurity. Our chapter has repurposed our now-empty Kitchener mosque as the packaging and distribution centre for our food hampers and hot-meal program. Of course, we have done this while strictly adhering to all health, safety and social distancing guidelines.

In alignment with the provincial government’s policies, our no-questions-asked approach has put us at the forefront of providing care and hunger relief in Waterloo Region during the pandemic. Our youth have delivered more than 500 hot meals and hundreds of bags of groceries containing essential staples to local residents.

Finally, by partnering with Menno seniors’ home, the Reception House, and agency-affiliated social workers doing much-needed work handling the COVID-19 impacts at the grassroots level, we’ve ensured that our program addresses the most urgent needs. None of this would have been possible without the existing infrastructure of our chapter and the national MAC organization’s support, demonstrating once again our adaptive capacity to respond to what our community needs.

Beyond filling stomachs, the MAC Food Share program also serves another purpose: filling hearts. One particularly touching development from the Waterloo Region program has been having a hot-meal recipient — a student at Conestoga College — turn around to become a volunteer, paying the kindness forward by distributing 10 packages weekly themselves. This also led to a partnership with Conestoga Muslim Students’ Association for more volunteers to increase our distribution capacity into Cambridge and Guelph.

People who receive the much-needed food and grocery staples have overwhelmed us with how much these kindnesses mean to them. One recipient offered thanks to the wonderful man with the kind eyes and warm smile that dropped food off at 7 p.m. when he should have been home with his family.

No one can say that the constantly shifting, dire reality of the pandemic has not had lasting consequences on our ability to hope for a better future. By being the helpers, quick to jump at the chance to spread kindness, our MAC youth volunteers remind others that difficult times bring their own unique opportunities for love and generosity to prevail.

Asif Manzoor is a program manager in the aerospace industry. He lives in Kitchener and serves with the Muslim Association of Canada as the volunteer chapter head for Waterloo Region and Wellington County.

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