BUILDING BRIDGES: Help those close to home

Reasons to give extend beyond holiday season, writes columnist Taslim Jaffer

On Friday afternoon, the two older kids and I set up a very sophisticated peanut-butter-and-jam-sandwich making system on the kitchen island.

Once the towers of sandwiches were wrapped, we piled them carefully into a cloth shopping bag. In another cloth bag, we tossed a bag of mandarin oranges and a couple boxes of cereal bars.

We were all set for the next day.

At the beginning of this year, the five of us had sat down and made a list of ways we could feed hungry people. Aside from dropping off food at the Surrey Food Bank and adding $2 to our grocery bill every week at Save-On Foods, we decided we wanted to get involved with the Interfaith Food and Clothing Ministry.

My husband and I loved the idea of supporting close to home; we have our own ‘downtown eastside’ right here in Surrey. And, of course, an interfaith group that is open to people of all backgrounds including atheist and agnostic beliefs is something we feel can only bring a community closer together.

Well, here it was, November, and we still hadn’t made it out to 135A Street in Surrey, at the corner of 106 Avenue, where the Interfaith Food and Clothing Ministry meets on the first, third and fifth Saturday of the month.

As if cramming for a final exam, we circled the date on the calendar and contacted the co-ordinator, Arun Chatterjee, by email. He encouraged us to bring dry pre-packaged foods for ease of delivering.

When we arrived at the meeting area, I expected to see… well, a whole committee of people packing their foods in the brown bags that Arun was providing. But it was just Arun and his children – though I was happy to hear that roughly 15 to 20 families are involved in the program, and they have even had support from local businesses that provide food.

Arun and his family have not missed a delivery day in the five years since they started this program – an idea that came to him and his wife out of the simple desire to serve others.

His children have literally grown up visiting the streets, thoughtfully shopping for and packaging meals for the hungry. They happily got my kids involved in bagging and soon we were a real team, mostly run by the children.

Once all the brown bags were full of sandwiches, samosas, granola bars, mandarins, chips and juice boxes, our two families walked over to where people were sitting or lying down near their few possessions.

Some walked up to us with grateful smiles, looked at my kids and expressed their thanks.

We weren’t the only ones delivering food. Someone was serving a hot Indian meal from the back of their truck, while others handed out water bottles as they walked around.

It was moving and even sacred.

I am telling you about this for many reasons. Just a gentle reminder that social issues permeate our own backyard. Also, that people are hungry all year ‘round, so while the Christmas season brings out the best of us, we must remember that the rest of the year needs our hearts, too.

And, finally, I am inspired out of my mind by a South Surrey husband-and-wife team who, along with their compassionate children, decided to take action where they saw a problem. And their action involves bringing together a diverse community of people – the people of Surrey – to show us that our differences don’t matter when people’s bellies are empty.

Arun beautifully describes this ministry as, “a place to stand beside the most vulnerable and marginalized people of our own community. A place to have a chat with them and share each other’s story. A place to experience our own vulnerability, fear and judgments and gradual freedom from them. A place to discover our collective humanity one Saturday at a time. A place to let your spirit unfold and get inspired to follow your own calling.”

Homelessness and poverty are greater issues that cannot be solved by handing out food. I recognize this.

And I hope that in 2017, I can move beyond ‘Band-Aid’ solutions and lobby for long-term support.

In the meantime, I was raised to never let someone go hungry if I could help it.

And through this ministry’s effort, I may be able to pass down that teaching to my own kids.

If you would like to learn more about the Interfaith Food and Clothing Ministry, please email Arun at arunavc@hotmail.com

Columnist Taslim Jaffer writes monthly on multicultural connections.

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