Local community group distributes food to in-need residents

    Local community group International Cultural Integration Organization distributed food to many in-need Parc-Extension residents last Friday, at Parc Metro station.
    Five volunteers with the organizations helped distribute portions of biryani, a South Asian mixed rice dish, to residents in need of food.
    Over 200 pre-prepared dishes were given out for free to any resident in need of a prepared meal. The food boxes are meant for in-need residents, but the organization does not perform any eligibility check, working instead on an honesty basis.
    The organization also works to distribute masks and other necessary articles, like gloves and hats for the winter months.
    It was one of the many other food distribution efforts the group has organized since the start of the pandemic. The group will be again distributing prepared food on Friday, Apr. 9 at Parc Metro. The group can also deliver meals to those in need.
    Variety of services
    Founded in 2006, the organization is headed by Mahmood Raza Baig along with several other volunteers. It centers its mission around anti-poverty work and human rights efforts in the Parc-Extension neighbourhood.
    The organization works to help in-need Parc-Extension residents, such as refugee claimants, low-income seniors and women who are victims of domestic abuse.
    Among other community efforts, International Cultural Integration Organization is “committed to feeding the homeless and needy every week,” according to their Facebook page.
    In addition to providing food, the group works to offer other services to residents who may need aid. This includes education workshops for refugees, professional development programs for women and the distribution of masks since the start of the pandemic.
    Much of the work done by the organization with regards to COVID-19 has been aided by Sasha Dyck, Head Nurse at the Park Extension COVID-19 Testing Clinic. Baig said that Dyck had provided “excellent contribution with us,” adding that masks were donated and information was provided on safe health practices.
    Parc-Extension hit hard
    With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, Baig noticed a need for aid in his community and wanted to contribute to providing that help.
    “A lot of fear was going on in society and multi-ethnic communities especially in poor people,” said Baig of how COVID-19 affected Parc-Extension.
    “There were no more masks available at the beginning of the pandemic and people were unable to buy [them] at high prices,” said Baig.
    He, therefore, wanted to pivot his efforts in the community and come to the aid of those who were hit hardest by the social and economic effects of the pandemic.
    The project has so far been entirely community funded, through personal contributions and public donations. “It was so difficult because generally, I have some money from my pocket,” said Baig about the difficulty of funding the services.
    “I have some friends, and thank God I’m very well respected in the area,” stated Baig, adding that this has helped him pursue his efforts in the community.
    Nonetheless, Baig also highlighted the difficulties he has faced in running the project over the past 11 months.
    “It’s very difficult to get funds,” said Baig, adding that he feels disparity in funding is often based on race. “We face definitely some political hindrance,” said Baig.
    Need for space
    Although Baig plans to keep distributing meals and grow the operations of the organization, he also wishes he could get more aid and funding for his efforts.
    The group currently works with local organizations to prepare food from scratch in shared kitchens, but also wants to expand to be able to run their own kitchen and accommodate people in a dining hall.
    “Right now we are also sort of looking at our own place,” said Baig, but added that rent prices for such a project are very expensive.
    “$2000 to $3000 dollars a month,” said Baig about the rent he would have to pay for his own space, adding that it would be “a big headache for me.”
    Baig hopes the group can grow its efforts in order to better serve those in Parc-Extension. “I want to treat people and properly in proper room and proper place, they can sit and eat and go,” said Baig of an eventual community kitchen location.
    Regardless of the organizational and financial hardships organizations like Baig’s face, he says he will keep doing the work he has done for the past 15 years.
    “There is a purpose of our activity on humanitarian and compassionate grounds,” related Baig, adding that the long hours spent distributing food outside during the winter months was nonetheless worth it.
    “To do something for good reason, you’re supposed to have a determination,” concluded Baig.
    Anyone who would like to get more information or get involved can browse International