A local family has been spreading kindness to their neighbours – one food hamper at a time.
Several years ago, New West residents Roqiya Ahmadi and Mohammad Amin Ahmadi started Social Forum Hope, a New Westminster-based non-profit organization that fights against child poverty and child labour in Afghanistan. It targets poor orphans whose fathers have been killed in war and whose mothers are unable to support their families – resulting in children being sent out to work rather than attending school.
To raise money for the non-profit organization, the couple opened the Hope Omid, a small thrift store selling clothing and household items at 20-825 McBride Blvd. When the pandemic forced the store to close temporarily in March 2020, they considered how they could help out closer to home.
“When the pandemic started last year, we had to close,” Roqiya told the Record. “After that we are thinking: why do we just have to empty the store? Is there something else?”
Soon, the couple began providing food hampers to fellow community members who were struggling to provide enough food for their families because of the pandemic.
“The hampers, we started for neighbourhood. After that, we make it bigger, bigger and bigger,” Mohammad said. “Now it’s twice a week; Friday and Monday we are giving out food.”
About 70 families receive hampers each week, choosing from a variety of items laid out on tables at an outdoor location near the thrift store.
“It’s everything – milk, meat, macaroni, potato, bread, everything,” Mohammad said. “It’s everything a family needs for eating.”
The couple has spread the word about the hamper program through various Facebook groups, but news of the program has also travelled quickly via word-of-mouth. Food is offered on a first-come first-served basis, with few people leaving empty handed.
“They are very, very happy,” Mohammad said. “If they say ‘I need it,’ I give them food.”
Mohammad said it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to help out residents who need help accessing food or other items during the pandemic.
“You cannot believe it. I’m just like flying,” he said. “When I saw the people happy, it looks like I am flying. I am very, very happy. My English is not very well, so I can’t explain what I want to say to you.”
Mohammad, who is originally from Afghanistan, lived in Russia for 12 years before coming to Canada. Roqiya and Mohammad, who married in Russia, moved to Canada 15 years ago, immediately setting up a home in New Westminster, where they’re raising their four children.
A family affair
The four Ahmadi children – Farhod, 5, Feresatah,11, Farazod, 13 and Farzona,17 – have also found a way of contributing to their community.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve used money that would have been used for birthday parties to supply goodie bags to seniors, hospital employees, homeless people and other community members.
“All birthdays, we do that. All the money, we buy something and make goodie bags,” Mohammad explains. “We share our happiness to them.”
Each time, the family disperses 200 or more goodie bags filled with brand new items. The contents of the goodie bags vary, but they often include a face mask, hand sanitizer, chocolates or candy, toiletries and socks.
Farzona, the couple’s eldest daughter, celebrated her birthday in February by using her birthday money to create gift bags for 210 seniors at Dunwood Place – just in time for Valentine’s Day and Family Day.
Julian helped the family deliver gift bags to seniors at Dunwood Place.
“Due to the COVID-19 health and safety protocols, we were not able to be in close contact with the seniors,” he said in a statement to the Record. “But the staff at Dunwood Place told us how much the seniors appreciated the work that the Ahmadi family did for them in the community.”
Along with Julian, who has supported the family at many of its events, members of the New Westminster police and fire departments have also helped deliver hundreds of goodie bags to various community members.
“Together we want to help the community,” Mohammad said. “This is showing our togetherness. It’s teamwork in the community.”
Mohammad said he’d like to get more sponsors so they’re able to disperse even more hampers to community members. Social Hope Forum is currently a non-profit organization, but he’d also like to find a way of making it into a charitable organization.