The family behind NL Eats — a nonprofit known for the mobile food bank they began during the COVID-19 pandemic, among other community projects — is saying goodbye to Newfoundland and Labrador … at least for now.
Originally from Bangladesh, siblings Adib Rahman, Mahmudul Islam Shourov, Fabiha Tarannum and Mehnaz Tabassum, along with Tabassum's fiancé, Saif Ahmed, formed NL Eats in 2019.
"We all recently graduated and we were looking for opportunities," said Adib Rahman, who is the director of marketing for NL Eats.
"We have looked for opportunities in Newfoundland. But because of the pandemic … it's very, very scarce right now, the opportunities available for youth."
The family has now moved to Ottawa because of work after living in St. John's for more than six years. Some family members are permanent residents; some, like Rahman and Shourov, have post-graduation work permits.
"With that status comes a lot of different restrictions," Rahman said. "A lot of jobs are not available to us. And while we are in the process of our permanent residency right now, it is a lengthy process."
While the family is sad to go, they're vowing to make an annual visit.
They even bought a house before they left — and Tabassum said they definitely hope to return in a couple of years.
In the meantime, they're all staying very much involved with NL Eats. Working with their staff and volunteers on the ground in Newfoundland, the family will keep overseeing a wide array of community projects.
A mobile food bank and so much more
The Road to Success program is one of their latest ventures. Aimed at helping youth launch their careers through volunteering, paid internships and professional skills building, the family's departure from Newfoundland actually sparked the idea for the program.
"We love Newfoundland and it was very heartbreaking for us to leave," Rahman said.
"So we want to make sure, moving forward, we have these opportunities in place so people are not leaving the province looking for opportunities or going to the mainland or out west, leaving their precious home."
Meanwhile, NL Eats' mobile food bank, Project #FoodForThought, is still going strong. Since beginning last year, the nonprofit has helped feed over 800 families in the St. John's metro area. They've also partnered with First Light Friendship Centre on Water Street, where the food bank is currently housed.
"We've been graced by their help in terms of location as well as freezer and storage space," said Shourov, who is NL Eats co-founder and chief public relations officer. Shourov said First Light and NL Eats are now pooling resources and supplies for people in need.
Whaddya Cooking? is a newer, upcoming NL Eats project. Shourov explained that sometimes, food bank users aren't sure how to cook the food they've received in their delivery packages.
To address this, NL Eats has asked some cooking-savvy students and chefs from local restaurants to film cooking videos showcasing items from the food bank. Once the videos are complete, NL Eats plans to send along written recipe booklets with all their deliveries.
"We're very proud of that one," Shourov said.
Another NL Eats food bank-related endeavour is Fomtree — an app, currently in development, aimed at helping any food bank manage and anticipate client needs.
Then moving away from the food bank side of things, there's the NL Eats Community Hub.
Now nearing 5,600 members, the Facebook group encourages diners to leave reviews for local restaurants — which is how the group got rolling in the first place.
"It got clearer and clearer, as the pandemic kind of brimmed out, that more local businesses were suffering," said Shourov. By building up the community hub, NL Eats hopes to create awareness and level the playing field for restaurants with less of a marketing budget.
Recently, NL Eats began working with high school students across the province to create community gardens and other student-led food security projects.
They're also gearing up for Tidal Deal — an upcoming project focused on fundraising through storytelling — along with their NL Eats Road Trip.
After collecting points through different kinds of Instagram engagement, two winning duos will set out on a four-day, all-expenses paid journey across the island, collecting prizes from 48 local businesses along the way.
"It's kind of like our going-away present to Newfoundland," Rahman said.
'Come from away, but stay for good'
The family said their path to entrepreneurship hasn't been easy. They've been pitching and pursuing ideas since 2016, and not all of them have worked out.
"But if you are consistent in your efforts, it will always come through," said Rahman. "I think the biggest takeaway from our experience, overall, is never give up."
While living in Ottawa, the family hopes to build more connections for NL Eats.
And in the meantime, they'll keep on cultivating food security solutions for the province from afar.
"We're trying to be pioneers in the sense of people helping people," said Shourov.
"And it could be people from anywhere. 'Come from away, but stay for good' is our motto, or our take on our values around culture," he added.
"And sharing cultures is what really brings people together. That's something we truly believe in."