SHAFAQNA – A charitable food drive that began with Windsor’s Muslim community is spreading to communities across the country and organizers hope to have it in every region of Canada within just a few years.
Sousan Khaled helped launch the first campaign 12 years ago when a group of residents decided to hold a food drive during the month of Ramadan.
Every year since, the group has consistently collected enough food and supplies for 1,000 families. The same charitable model is now being organized in other provinces, including Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I didn’t even know there was such a big Muslim community there,” Khaled said of the group that is forming in St. John’s. “But I guess there is a small Muslim community, who is just as passionate as me.”
Khaled worked with volunteers on Tuesday at the Al-Kijra mosque in Tecumseh, bagging up this year’s donations, eventually filling 1,200 bags with food and toiletries. The bags are donated to organizations, such as the Salvation Army, the Windsor Homes Coalition and the Society of Saint Vincent De Paul.
Her face lights up when she talks about other communities now doing similar work.
Word spread naturally
Khaled had long thought about sharing the idea with other communities, but she hadn’t reached out to anyone. Ultimately, she wanted to see the Windsor model replicated across the country.
Then, three years ago, an active member of her Muslim community moved to Halifax, where he talked about the project. Khaled soon after received a message about how the east coast community wanted to start their own food drive.
She was overwhelmed that her idea was taking shape.
“What’s in my heart is coming out, without any effort on my part,” she said. “This is what I believe my faith is all about — you just intend for good and it will come.”
Khaled is also working with Muslims in Mississauga, which have launched a similar food drive.
The Muslims of Windsor Share the Spirit of Ramadan Food Drive was a natural fit for Khaled, given that Ramadan is a time of year marked by prayer, fasting and charity.
Other communities have easily latched onto the concept as well. Asraa El-Darahali, who organizes the Halifax food drive, says Muslims understand what it’s like to be hungry, considering they fast for 18 hours a day.
“You’re feeling hunger and what hunger does to you, and you’re able to feel more compassion, more empathetic towards those people who have gone without a meal,” she said.
Time to go big
Her idea may have taken off without her forcing it to happen, but Khaled is now excited to reach out to as many communities as she can.
She wants to network and have food drives set up in dozens of communities across the country. She already has plans to reach out to people, she explained, listing off the provinces of B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
“I want to hit all the provinces as much as I can,” she said. “I’m just really excited about that. I hear there’s a really active community up north, in Nunavut from what I understand.”
Khaled would like to see the food drives across the country inside of eight years. The project has come a long way, she explained. It was the brain child of Dr. Hossam Al-Tatori, a physician who used to live in Windsor.
He worked with several volunteers like Khaled to set the program up. With so many negative attitudes towards Muslims, Al-Tatori wanted to expose the community to the charitable work people were already doing.
Like many in the Muslim community, Khaled didn’t like the idea of self-promotion, so the idea of bragging about the charity work didn’t appeal to her at first. But she eventually agreed.
“When we do food drives, it’s private,” she said. “He wanted to spread it across Windsor and let everyone know.”