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“We’ve run errands for more than 3,000 families”: How a local Muslim youth association is helping people buy groceries and fill prescriptions

By Aizaz Khan| Photography by Daniel Neuhaus
“We've run errands for more than 3,000 families”: How a local Muslim youth association is helping people buy groceries and fill prescriptions

I’m a youth leader and an imam with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which has several mosques and prayer centres across Canada. In late March, our community leader, the Caliph Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, offered some insightful remarks through an online article, directing our attention toward service to mankind. He reminded us of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, and how our community provided aid to the wider public at that time.

The caliph’s remarks sparked a desire within the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, which is the largest Muslim youth group in Canada. We knew we could count on our members to volunteer their time to help people in our community. Our organizing committee got together through conference calls, phone calls and email to carve out a plan. Three days later, on March 24, we launched a volunteer initiative called Neighbourhood Helper to assist people who needed help with errands and couldn’t risk going outside, whether they were elderly, they were immunocompromised, or they had mobility issues.

When a community member needs help—buying groceries, filling prescriptions or any other emergency errand—they can fill out a form on our website or call our hotline number. The hotline redirects to 11 designated volunteers who are on call 24/7. Whoever picks up the phone call first will record the person’s name, their address and what kind of assistance they need, then get in touch with the youth leader in the area where the resident lives. Each chapter has one youth leader and anywhere from 30 to 100 members—a total of some 6,000 members across Canada and over 4,000 members in the Toronto area alone. The youth leader then assigns the task to a volunteer member. Once they’re done, they report back so we can make sure that task has been completed.

In our first three weeks, we served over 3,000 families. We try our best to fulfill the task, whatever it is, on the same day it’s requested. Our hotline gets between 50 to 150 calls a day, and so far, we’ve been able to fulfill orders within two to three hours. And over the past few weeks, we’ve noticed that more people are reaching out. Our volunteers are getting the word out through social media, contacting elected officials and offering our assistance in their ridings, and distributing flyers in their neighbourhoods. We’ve been promoting it to people regardless of race, creed, whatever. This service is for everyone.

Our youth association members range from 15 to 40 years old. They come from pretty much all walks of life, but we have a lot of university students and recent graduates. Ezaaz Rashed Saeed, a 23-year-old volunteer, recently helped a disabled man near Kipling and Eglinton. The man’s fridge had broken down so he needed help replacing the food that had spoiled. Ezaaz spoke to the man’s parents and they pre-ordered the food online, so all he had to do was pick it up from the grocery store and deliver it. Once the groceries were delivered, Ezaaz got a grateful call from the man’s mother, who offered to pay for his gas. Ezaaz declined: he was just happy to be of service.

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Recently, we started getting calls from people who didn’t qualify for the CERB benefits, who were struggling to put food on the table. Our youth association runs other volunteer campaigns like food drives, so we already have food items on hand. Bilal Kahloon, a 22-year-old from Brampton and a student at Ryerson University, received a call from a single mother who lived just a few blocks from him. She had barely eaten anything for the previous two days. Through our food drive campaign, we were quickly able to provide her with a care package of food to feed herself and her child.

It’s an honour to be part of this organization, and inspiring to watch our young people mobilize themselves to serve their communities. We’re a tight-knit group, and usually we get together a lot and play sports. When all those things came to a halt, it was difficult. But now we’ve moved everything online: we hold virtual classes, and I’ve been creating videos, showing viewers how fulfilling our volunteers find this work. It’s to promote the campaign, both to members of our community and to young people who might want to volunteer. We want to serve as many Canadians as possible. If there’s anybody else in need, we want them to know we’re here for them.

As told to Andrea Yu

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