Saturday’s cold weather did not stop roughly 100 people from Fort McMurray’s Islamic community from giving out hundreds of food hampers to anyone who wanted one.
For three hours outside the mosque at Abraham’s Landing, anyone could pick up a hamper packed with non-perishable items, such as pasta, rice, canned foods, sugar and salt. Other hampers were delivered to people’s homes.
Bushra Naseer, a volunteer with the event, said there were enough supplies for 300 hampers. Half of those were split evenly between Waypoints, the Salvation Army and the Centre of Hope.
“It’s sad to see the community going through this tough time, but we’ve seen some really generous people in Fort McMurray who have stepped up,” said Naseer. “It’s really great to see.”
Markaz-Ul-Islam last ran their free food hamper program after April’s flood. Naseer said the organization has been working to deliver food hampers when they recognize a community need for the program. This event was also held in partnership with Islamic Relief Canada.
“These are difficult time with COVID-19 and job losses,” said Naseer. “The way things are going, the community seems to be more and more in need of help.”
Dan Edwards, executive director of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank (WBFB), said the food bank has seen demands for its services increase for months.
Even before the pandemic began, the organization was struggling to keep up with layoffs when oil prices fell early last year. In previous interviews, Edwards has worried this spring’s tax time will once again be busy, as people will be asked to pay taxes on CERB payments.
“We’re always busy and fully booked pretty much every day,” said Edwards. “Where we have tapering off, a new person fills that void.”
Edwards said he is happy to see Markaz-Ul-Islam create a space where people can safely come together to help the community. The opportunity to come out for a good cause while also being social is important to him.
“It helps the community, it helps mental health, it helps everything,” said Edwards. “Events like this are really multi-layered.”
There is still a demand from people in rural communities, Edwards said. The winter road closure has made hamper delivery to Fort Chipewyan difficult. About 25 hampers are able to fit on a flight whereas 30 to 35 could fit on a truck, he said.
For communities closer to town, Edwards said people have been able to drive in and pick up hampers for their community. Edwards said people in Fort McKay have organized these trips, for instance.
This has been helpful for the food bank when the organization is short-staffed. Sometimes, Edwards said, they simply don’t have the people to make deliveries to rural communities.
“It’s been really great working with our community partners to still be able to meet the needs of the community when we are having issues ourselves,” said Edwards. “People are really stepping up to support us.”
Sarah Williscraft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today