Edmonton brothers who went hungry give back to food bank

The Barzagar brothers own a successful construction company in Edmonton, but growing up there were times when they had nothing to eat.

‘That really got us through the hardest times in our lives’

Brothers, Matti, Moe and Hani Barzagar tell CBC's Adrienne Pan about why they started volunteering for and donating to the Edmonton Food Bank. (Hani Barzagar)

Brothers Matti, Hani and Moe Barzagar own a successful construction company in Edmonton, but growing up, there were many times when they had nothing to eat.

Hani said he distinctly remembers the stress of "coming to school and really starving."

"I remember going to school wondering, 'What am I going to have for lunch?' or even being jealous of other kids eating."

The Barzagar family arrived in Canada in 1997. Their father had applied for a business visa back in 1990 to expand the jewelry store business he started in Kuwait, but for years it wasn't approved.

Then the 1991 Persian Gulf War hit.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the family of seven was forced to flee to Iran. Later, they moved back to Kuwait, but by then, their father's businesses had been destroyed.

They left once they received their visa to Canada, settling first in Halifax. They had almost nothing.

"Things got worse and worse over time, and we didn't know the food bank even existed," Hani said.

Hani said that when a social worker delivered a meal to them from the food bank it changed their lives.

"You have no idea the joy that it brought to our life, because we could go to school and have snacks at lunch and go home and have something to eat," he said.

"I remember being able to fit in with the rest of the guys now, because I didn't have to sit there and be jealous of the guy that's eating a Snickers bar or a Twix bar."

The first time the family ate turkey was their first Christmas in Canada. It was donated to them through the food bank. The brothers say they can still remember the taste. 

"That really got us through the hardest times in our lives," Hani said. 

Giving back

Eventually Matti, one of the older siblings, moved to Edmonton in 2006 to start working in the construction industry.

Hani and Moe soon followed. The three now run HIBCO, a residential and commercial construction company.

"Over the years, as we gained steam and grew as a company and [now are] doing so well, we can't help but think, 'How would we be here today if it wasn't for the food bank?'" Moe said, "So any chance we get we try to give back."

The company was contracted to renovate the offices of the Edmonton Food Bank.

Hanni said after the food bank sent them a $18,000 cheque for their work, they turned around and cut them a cheque for the same amount.

"I know I did that for my mom because she was so proud," he said, "It's not easy to sit there and take from somebody, from the food bank or somebody that gives.

"It's hard because everyone wants to be independent, everybody wants to be on their own."

Since then the company now routinely does construction work for the Edmonton Food Bank and hosts fundraisers.

"We were in need. When we needed it people were there to support us," said Hani.

"Now I know for the rest of our lives we'll be giving back."

With files from Kim Nakrieko