For Muslims, Ramadan is a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset, sharing, and community. However, for the second year in a row, things are a bit different. With even stricter lockdown measures in place, people are once again forced to celebrate this blessed month from home. However, this hasn’t stopped the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) from providing for communities in any way they can, with iftar drive-through food banks at both their Toronto and Mississauga locations.
ISNA is an organization that provided for approximately four hundred families every month through its food bank, so there was concern at the start of the pandemic as to how this important service would operate. It was in March of 2020 that ISNA devised a drive-through model so that those in need could continue to have access to provisions. Since the start of the pandemic, the number of families served each month has risen to between five and seven hundred.
“A lot of our clients are from immigrant, refugee communities, marginalized, racialized. There are a lot of barriers for them to actually access other social services and perhaps other food banks in the GTA. We felt compelled that we have to stay open,” said Faisal Shaheen, food bank co-chair.
In pre-pandemic times, ISNA had also regularly held community iftars during Ramadan. Many would go to the mosque to share the breaking fast meal, called iftar, with members of the community. Financial contributions also helped those who are underprivileged to have a proper meal while maintaining the spirit of togetherness that Ramadan brings. ISNA decided to use the drive-through model to continue this service while adhering to COVID-19 restrictions. During Ramadan 2020, between 1 000 and 1 200 iftar meals were distributed. Sponsored by organizations such as Islamic Relief and Zabiha Halal, it is being continued for the second year of Ramadan in lockdown with iftar pickups being held every Friday and Saturday of the month, just before sunset.
Also in line with COVID-19 precautionary measures, ISNA is only working with restaurants such as Aunty’s Kitchen and Popeyes for meal distribution and no donations from the public are being accepted.
Volunteers, many of whom are high school students, are on duty every week, guiding cars from the two entry lanes through the mosque parking lot to the drive through. Upon entering the area, drivers are able to listen to the mosque’s very own radio station, which features religious songs and sermons as well as Ramadan greetings for all those visiting.
Zahra Ahmed, who visited the drive-through at the Mississauga location, said, “There were so many cars, backed up all the way to the highway exit where the mosque is located. It took almost an hour to get around the parking lot and pick up our food. Overall there was a really fun vibe, with people in their cars honking to show support and waving to each other.”
This year saw a much larger turnout than last year, with nearly 1 800 meals being distributed in the first two days. Whereas previously one meal package had been distributed for each person, this year there was a limit of two meal packages per car to accommodate the number of families that showed up.
Members of Provincial Parliament from the area were also present, such as Rudy Cuzzetto, the MPP for Mississauga-Lakeshore, showing his support at the Mississauga mosque location.
With support from many members of the community, ISNA’s drive-through iftar serves the sense of celebration and togetherness that many had missed from Ramadan during the pandemic, and helps those less fortunate to share in it.