Edmonton brothers give back to food bank after relying on its help

Local construction company HIBO says it is committed to helping the Edmonton Food Bank. The three brothers who run the company say their family relied on the food bank when they first came to Canada, and now they're giving back in any way they can.

‘We’re giving back, because we received'

Mehdi, Hani and Moe Barzagar with Morgan MacKenzie, the marketing co-ordinator at HIBCO Construction. (Min Dhariwal/CBC )

No matter how busy the construction business gets, the Barzagar brothers always make time for the Edmonton Food Bank.

For the last 10 years, their family business, HIBCO Construction, has supported the food bank through various initiatives, including donations and construction expertise. 

The Barzagars say their connection to local food banks goes back more than 20 years, to when the family emigrated from Kuwait to Halifax in 1997. 

Mehdi Barzagar, the eldest brother, remembers it well. 

'It was very tough'

"Going to school not having lunch, looking at other kids eating in the lunchroom, it was very tough," Barzagar said. "It was challenging but there was a lot of good people out there to help us. And the food bank was one of the major ones that really helped us. It hit home." 

Though he was just a kid, Moe Barzagar, 25, remembers how his mother managed to get by with the food bank's help.

He said workers would often deliver food right to their home. 

"That made a huge difference for us," he said. "There was food on the table. You didn't have to worry about where you're next meal was coming from."

In 2006, Mehdi Barzagar moved west to Edmonton, where he started work as a labourer. Eventually, his brothers followed and soon HIBCO construction was created. 

'Good karma' 

The company specializes in retail and commercial construction. After the Fort McMurray wildfire, the company did a lot of reconstruction and renovation work in the community. 

The revenue generated finally allowed the brothers to give back.

"Overall it's good karma," said Moe Barzagar, who works as a project manager in the family business. "You get, you give back, and you keep the cycle continuously going."

Several years ago, the Edmonton Food Bank needed some construction work done, and HIBCO won the bid. 

The company worked on the main building, and renovations to a nearby warehouse.  

'Makes us feel good'

HIBCO helped build several offices, a lunch room and a large multi-use storage area. During the construction, the company saw how many people relied on the food bank for help. 

When it came time to be paid for the work, the company didn't cash the food bank cheque for $18,000. 

"We're giving back, because we received," said Hani Barzagar. "They planted a seed in us, and now that the seed has turned into a tree we're able to give back from where we came from."

Some of new offices built at the Edmonton Food Bank by HIBCO Construction. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

Giving back has become the motto at HIBCO, a belief embraced by all employees.

"It just makes us feel good, it's also fun to do it together as a team," said Morgan MacKenzie, marketing co-ordinator at HIBCO, who admitted she has had to rely on the food bank in the past. 

In November, the company celebrated its 10th anniversary of giving to the Edmonton Food Bank. They came just short of their $10,000 goal.

Employees chipped in nearly $1,200 by deducting money from their paycheques. One employee gave $500.  

Many are in need

"I think we've all been there, where everything else needs to be paid first and food always comes last," said MacKenzie.

HIBCO's generosity has really helped, said Mark Doram, the food bank's director of operations 

"There's a lot of people in need out there, and it's getting greater," Doram said, while an army of volunteers packed hampers for the holiday season. 

"You know, whenever we're in trouble, those are the guys we call and they're here in record time. And it's because they have a vested interest in the work we do."

Lunch room area created by HIBCO Construction at the Edmonton Food Bank. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

That help will always be there, said Hani Barzagar.

"It's something we're always going to be grateful for," he said. "We're always blessed to have another day and keep the doors open, and make sure we can give back."