Surrey Food Bank said it was seeking additional donations for culturally specific foods, such as halal meat, after seeing demand for them increase over the past six months.
Vijay Naidu, the food bank’s communications director, says it serves about 13,000 households monthly, 80% of which are of Muslim background.
“We want to give them the food they want rather than the food they don’t want,” Naidu said.
“To make them feel happier, more comfortable… that’s the whole point of providing them with culturally specific food, to make them feel welcome.”
Naidu said the organization can only afford to buy 3,000 units of halal meat – chicken and beef – per month at cost, but estimates 10,000 families need the meat each month.
He said that when they run out of protein, which often happens, families will substitute other items like chickpeas for protein.
The organization is trying to secure more halal donations from major stores and discounts from farmers and butchers who produce halal meat, he said, but has so far had no luck.
“I think it will take a while because the price of everything has gone up,” Naidu said.
“So we just hope for the best.”
Changes in food bank items
Amer Albirkdar arrived in Canada from Syria in 2020 and said he has been using the Surrey Food Bank ever since, coming here once a week to pick up supplies for his wife and two children.
“We used to go to a food bank a year ago, maybe half of the food didn’t work for us,” he said.
Last year, the food bank launched a survey asking families what they would like to eat more of.
Since then, Albirkdar has seen more dishes that fit his Muslim culture and faith, he said.
“[Them] really giving us food to give me time to study,” says Albirkdar, adding that he’s trying to get certified as a therapist in Canada.
Culture-appropriate food helps everyone
Naidu said customers who were unable to get halal items from their inventory were also referred to the Islamic Food Bank, an organization that offers only halal products and no pork.
Azim Dahya, CEO of the Islamic Food Bank, said that over the past year it has seen an increase from 500 to 1,000 monthly visits, including those from refugees. problem.
He says providing them with culturally appropriate food will help them integrate in Canada.
“It allows them to be cared for from a food insecurity perspective,” he said.
“So when they come here, they feel welcome, they feel at home.”
Dahya said families using their food banks are also connected with case workers who speak their language.
“Food often allows people to build good relationships,” he says.
“Once we build relationships, we can help them in different ways towards self-reliance.”