At only nine years old, Hana Fatima doesn’t quite know what she wants to be when she grows up, but she does know that she wants to help people realize the power they have to make a difference.
“When I leave, someone has to know and pass it on to the next generations. I want to be someone who teaches others the good, ”she told TBEN News.
It’s a lesson born out of an impulse she got while shopping with her father at a grocery store in Mississauga, Ont., At the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
About a year ago – two days before Ontario’s first lockdown, when toilet paper and uncertainty over life in a global pandemic were at the forefront for many – Fatima and her father, Tariq Syed, got together. were stocking up on supplies. They waited in line for an hour, and once inside their goal was to quickly buy what they needed and get home safely.
“I was in a panic about shopping, to be honest,” Syed, 38, recalls. “Naturally, I was focused on myself and trying to get my list down as quickly as possible.” He remembers people struggling, but it wasn’t something he paid attention to.
That is, until Fatima notices an elderly woman in the queue struggling with her groceries.
‘It reminded me of my grandparents’
“It reminded me of my grandparents,” Fatima remembers. So, she showed the woman to her father and the two offered to help her carry her purchases to her car.
It was a simple gesture, but the woman’s reaction stuck with Fatima. “She got really happy.”
Back home, Fatima and her father shared their number with some elderly neighbors. The idea was that those who needed help could provide them with a list of items Fatima and her father would buy so those most at risk would not have to be exposed to the virus in crowded stores.
Syed shared the idea with a few friends and created a Facebook group to coordinate. His friends told their friends, and within hours, hundreds of people volunteered to do the same in their communities.
Fatima’s gesture in the store snowballed an army of volunteers that Syed and the other core members decided to call the Good Neighbor Project.
More than a year after the start of the pandemic, the group now has some 6,000 volunteers from diverse backgrounds, speaking more than 30 languages, with chapters in Toronto, London and Ottawa.
Those who need help accessing groceries, essential supplies, and medication are connected through the Good Neighbor Helpline with someone who can purchase and deliver the items. The person making the request only pays the grocery costs because the delivery is free.
“ People have this desire in their hearts ”
Since its launch last March, the group says it has delivered more than 9,000 deliveries to vulnerable people, including the elderly, people with special needs, pregnant people, single parents and others. But according to Syed, the group is not a charity or nonprofit.
“This is just a network of good-hearted Canadians who have come together to help the community at an unprecedented time,” he said.
“It shows that people have this desire to go do something,” Fatima said of the outpouring of volunteers.
Ahmad El Rifai, 73, is just one of the elderly Fatima has helped. With two stents in his heart, he knew that going to the store because he was running out of something like sugar or coffee was not a good idea.
“It’s not a joke,” he told TBEN News. So when Fatima and her father offered their number, he was touched by their kindness.
“They are wonderful. This young woman, she is a blessing in our neighborhood,” he said. “We always appreciate what she does.”
A bright spot
At a time when the number of cases increases and the threat of variants is forcing people to return to lockdown and isolation, Syed says the project has been a positive.
“One good thing that came out of COVID … is basically this project, watching people come out and help each other out and be there for each other – it’s unexpected.”
Fatima wants to share this lesson with as many people as possible.
“When I saw the elderly person, I thought it was an opportunity for me to go and help someone,” she said. “Because whenever you have the chance to be helpful and kind, you just walk away without thinking about it.” Everyone should do it.
“See an opportunity? Does anyone need help? Go ahead and do it.”