Simple act of kindness grows to feed thousands in Toronto

Imraan Assim decided that sitting back and complaining about the world wasn’t enough.

Jan 2, 2019

This year, perhaps don’t make those same excuses.

At least not in front of Imraan Assim, and those who’ve followed his inspiring lead.

Ignore the impulse to say you’d love to lend a helping hand to a worthy cause – “but who has the time?”

Or that you’ll give back – “someday soon”.

Those words might seem a bit hollow for Assim, who has helped create a volunteer soup kitchen and food delivery service that has delivered thousands of meals to needy Toronto residents.

As the clock begins on another year, Assim recalls how he decided talking about those in need wasn’t actually helping them, and how his actions are guiding the next generation of neighbourhood altruism.

His story may also offer some inspiration for you.

A little over six years ago, Assim, a senior business analyst for PRESTO, was gathered with his wife, Aysha, and a group of friends. They were talking about problems in the world, including within their North York community.

That this is wrong and that needs changing.

“Then we thought, we can either be those grumpy old people who complain about everything, or (become) people who try to change it,” the 38-year-old father of three says.

He approached a local mosque – the TARIC Islamic Centre – and asked if they would be interested in supporting a food program, aimed at families who are struggling, newcomers with very little, individuals quietly living on the edge and seniors struggling all alone inside their apartments.

“This transcends religion. It’s about being human.” – PRESTO senior business analyst Imraan Assim, on his volunteer work.

Assim told the centre that all he needed was room. That he, his wife and fellow volunteers would do the rest.

He reached out to restaurants and food suppliers. And he made bargain deals to maximize donations – and started to create a program that for four weekends every November and into December, would deliver a human, caring connection to his neighbours. Over the six years the program has been run out of the TARIC Centre – it coincides with the Islamic holy month of Rabi al-Awwal – more than 15,000 meals have been handed out.

They’re delivered – with the help of 40 to 50 volunteers each of the four Sundays – to local emergency and crisis shelters, senior homes and low-income complexes. Those who come to help cross faiths, but are united in their need to do something to make someone’s world a bit better.

During the first year, volunteers high-fived one another because they served up a total of 1,200 meals over the four weekends. Now, they can do 1,000 meals in a single Sunday.

As well as a long list of Metrolinx colleagues, among those who come to help are Assim’s two young sons – aged eight and eleven. His four-year-old daughter will join the food line as soon as she’s old enough.

Assim’s need to act for the common good was passed down from his father, who worked for GO Transit for three decades.

“It’s important that (my children) realize, amid the discussion about giving back and being kind and concerned about your neighbour, that you take time to go one step further and step up to do something about it,” Assim says.

Online donations are wonderful, but are often hidden behind key-strokes and virtual transactions.

“When you come out, it’s there in front of you,” he adds.

Each year, more and more requests for help come in. He says ‘yes’ to them all.

He believes: “If there is a place to have blind faith, it’s in a house of worship.”

And there are many moments that make the effort worthwhile. Like the times seniors come out of their isolation to share food and hours with neighbours in common areas. Or a scruffy-looking man in front of a shelter coming up to say how wonderful a cupcake tastes, and that he hasn’t had one in years.

He hopes hose are the things his children will carry forward in their own lives, as they decide whether to just complain or actually do something.

During the four weekends, he and other volunteers make sure to include children in the process, including having them offer up art and notes for food baskets.

“This transcends religion,” he says. “It’s about being human.

“I just want to continue to serve.”

While his main focus is on organizing the main four-weekend soup kitchen, his volunteering efforts continue throughout the year.

Some of us, with all good intentions, find nice words to delay making a difference in the life of a stranger – or neighbour – in need.

Others simply find motivation for another year ahead.

by Thane Burnett Manager of editorial content for Metrolinx