‘They have nothing’: Richmond Hill volunteers race to raise donations for Afghans fleeing Taliban takeover

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‘They have nothing’: Richmond Hill volunteers race to raise donations for Afghans fleeing Taliban takeover

August 31, 2021, Toronto, ON: Sajida Habib is back in action. Six years ago, she worked on the campaign to sponsor and resettle Syrian refugee families in the GTA.

Now, Habib is focused on Afghan refugees who just landed in Canada after narrowly escaping the Taliban takeover.

Habib is the founder of the non-profit Salaam Foundation, initially named the Muslim Women of York Region, that aims to provide essential food and hygiene products and personal protective equipment to food banks and shelters.

Habib and her volunteers from Richmond Hill are rolling up their sleeves and working around the clock to collect and dispatch clothing donations for over 300 Afghan arrivals who are accommodated in York Region.

“They have nothing. They left Kabul airport with one suitcase,” Habib told The Liberal while working at SmartStop Self Storage at 50 Cityview Blvd. in Vaughan.

Habib decided to get into action to help out after knowing of the desperate need for clothes.

Donations quickly flooded into their two designated drop-off locations in Richmond Hill and Brampton before they had to suspend operations. Many more were still calling Habib to offer donations.

“What an incredible response. I had over 250 calls in two days,” said Habib.

They collected so much clothing that they needed to rent a unit at SmartStop Self Storage until they could deliver the goods.

After learning about the initiative, SmartStop offered them a second unit for free to sort out the piles of donated clothing.

“We appreciate what SmartStop has done for us. We had to turn many people away due to lack of space,” said Habib.

Many volunteers contributed by picking up, sifting through, and packing up the donations. Volunteer Naila Dewji’s 10-year-old daughter Zahra was one of them

“My mom likes to organize and help people, and I like that too,” said Zahra.

Habib says she felt so grateful when they received a call from York Region Police Association on Sept. 1 that the police were coming to assist and distribute some donations.

Within hours, over a dozen large sandbags filled with well-organized clothes were prepared for Sgt. Mina Rahravan from the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Bureau and her team.

On Aug. 28, volunteers posted an urgent request on social media saying that “Salaam Foundation will be collecting clothing for Afghan families arriving in Canada, since many of them are arriving with no luggage.”

The Afghan new arrivals were still in quarantine at hotels due to COVID protocols and the police did not disclose their location to keep them under the radar and away from being flocked, according to Habib.

Amid the escalating crisis in Afghanistan, Canada has promised to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees; and municipal officials say large numbers of Afghan newcomers fleeing the Taliban are likely to resettle in the GTA.

Community support would be invaluable in helping the newcomers in their transition to Canada, according to Federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.

Settlement agencies and community organizations in the GTA are hoping to duplicate their previous success in helping tens of thousands of Syrian refugees resettle in their communities in 2015.

Currently those organizations are managing the influx of between 1,500 and 2,000 Afghans who have just arrived in Canada, and they need all sorts of things, according to Lifeline Afghanistan, a network newly launched in response to the unfolding Afghan crisis.

Habib says they are looking at more pressing needs for new underclothing (for men, women and children) and socks, and personal hygiene products, including shampoo, conditioner, lotions, toothpaste, diapers, sanitary napkins and pads.

But the most pressing needs are baby formula and luggage (suitcases and duffel bags).

Anyone who is interested in donation can contact naila@salaamfoundation.ca.

“We are not alone. A lot of other volunteer groups are also helping out. We have done it before and we can do it again,” said Habib.

Read this article as it originally appeared in the Toronto Star on August 31, 2021, here.

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