London

London-based organization helping allocate clothing, supplies for refugee families

Only a couple of months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Nour Alard had the idea of gathering his friends' clothing donations and delivering them to local refugee families in London, Ont.

A non-profit organization launched during the pandemic started with just one post

One World United CEO Nour Alard (right) gathering donations with Hamza Fadel (left). (Submitted by Nour Alard)

Only a couple of months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Nour Alard had the idea of gathering his friends' clothing donations and delivering them to local refugee families in London.

After sharing a post on social media in May asking his friends if they would like to donate their gently-used clothes, Alard said the post was shared over 100 times and had reached over 40,000 people.

When he saw the amount of people willing to contribute and help with the cause, he thought "maybe I can make this bigger than what I had planned."

One month later, One World United, Alard launched a not-for-profit organization that collects and distributes clothing to refugee families with the help of a team of executives and volunteers.

Alard said it focuses on helping families who have migrated from other countries and may currently be living below the poverty line or having trouble adjusting to life in Canada, because many have made the move during the global pandemic.

"I was definitely shocked — I was very shocked to see this kind of support, I did not expect it whatsoever," Alard said.

The team uses storage facilities to store the donations they gather while getting in contact with families through social media and working with other organizations — mainly with Ambassadors of Goodness, a team of young Arab volunteers helping newcomers and those in need within their community.

This type of work holds a special place for Alard who immigrated to Canada with his family from Syria when he was in first grade.

"I understand to some extent the struggles of coming to a country with no resources, no connections, no language and so on," Alard said.

"I sympathize with it so being able to do my part and give back, it's self-fulfilling and it makes me feel good knowing that I can have an impact."

Hamza Al-Shammaa, GTA community outreach coordinator (left) standing in front of a Mississauga storage unit with volunteers (right). (Submitted by Nour Alard)

He said the team currently consists of about 25 volunteers across the province — all of whom work to gather and distribute not only clothing but also shoes, accessories, toys and even kitchen appliances.

Alard said the team has since expanded to take on more volunteers and acquiring more storage facilities in other cities including ones out of the province like Vancouver and Montreal.

Part of what drove him to create the organization were the effects of the pandemic and seeing how many families were struggling with having access to even basic necessities, he said.

The organization has also recently partnered with Kijiji Canada to organize a clothing drive with their employees and gain more traction. They also began accepting monetary donations to help fund their initiative and the work they do.

She said she was trying her best to integrate them within society and not make them feel like they're alienated here.- Hamza Al-Shamma, Community Outreach Coordinator

Hamza Al-Shammaa, the community outreach coordinator for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) told CBC London the organization has touched many lives. 

Al-Shammaa, who has worked with families dispersed across the province, said many who immigrated to Canada both with refugee status and as newcomers during the pandemic told him they were struggling to adapt and settle in. 

"I've seen people who are like 'thank you very much, I can't wait till I can stand on my own so I can be a part of this and help others who have been in my situation," Al-Shammaa said.

During the summer, Alard said the team would gather and pile donations in his London home prior to acquiring storage units to house the clothing and supplies. (Submitted by Nour Alard)

Al-Shammaa said a story that stands out in particular for him was when a Syrian mother of two who had just moved to Mississauga, Ont. told him she felt lost and didn't know how to settle in with the ongoing pandemic.

"She said she was trying her best to integrate them within society and not make them feel like they're alienated here — but at the same time, she's lost too, and she has no idea how to even do her paperwork."

She expressed her gratitude for the help, Al-Shammaa said, but he didn't stop there. 

Al-Shammaa connected the mother with a charity worker who was able to help her get enrolled in English classes and assist her with paperwork from filing for taxes to applying for a driver's licence.

He said this work ultimately allows them to bridge these gaps and have a direct impact on many families who need the help and he is particularly grateful he is able to do this type of work.

"Many people are fortunate enough to have not have much to worry about for themselves and that gives them time and resources to help others in need," Al-Shammaa said. 

"I'm grateful that I'm one of those people."

About the Author

Sara Jabakhanji is a reporter with CBC News and graduate of Ryerson's School of Journalism. Sara has chased stories for the CBC across the province of Ontario in Toronto, Ottawa and London. You can reach her at: sara.jabakhanji@cbc.ca

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