Nfld. & Labrador

They created a mobile food bank. Now the family behind NL Eats is leaving the province

After creating multiple food security projects, the family behind NL Eats is bidding farewell to Newfoundland and Labrador, at least for now.

Though the family is moving to Ottawa, a slew of food security projects are still in motion

From left, Adib Rahman, Mehnaz Tabassum, Saif Ahmed and Shourov Islam — four founders of the nonprofit NL Eats — visitTerra Nova National Park last summer. (Submitted by Adib Rahman)

The family behind NL Eats — a nonprofit known for the mobile food bank they began during the COVID-19 pandemic, among other community projects — is saying goodbye to Newfoundland and Labrador … at least for now.

Originally from Bangladesh, siblings Adib Rahman, Mahmudul Islam Shourov, Fabiha Tarannum and Mehnaz Tabassum, along with Tabassum's fiancé, Saif Ahmed, formed NL Eats in 2019.

"We all recently graduated and we were looking for opportunities," said Adib Rahman, the director of marketing for NL Eats.

"We have looked for opportunities in Newfoundland. But because of the pandemic.… It's very, very scarce right now, the opportunities available for youth."

The family has moved to Ottawa for work after living in St. John's for more than six years. Some family members are permanent residents; some, like Rahman and Shourov, have post-graduation work permits.

"With that status comes a lot of different restrictions," Rahman said. "A lot of jobs are not available to us. And while we are in the process of our permanent residency right now, it is a lengthy process."

While the family is sad to go, they're vowing to make an annual visit.

They even bought a house before they left, and Tabassum said they hope to return in a couple of years. 

In the meantime, they're all staying involved with NL Eats. Working with their staff and volunteers in Newfoundland, the family will keep overseeing a wide array of community projects.

A mobile food bank and so much more

The Road to Success program is one of their latest ventures. Aimed at helping youth launch their careers through volunteering, paid internships and professional skills building, the family's departure from Newfoundland actually sparked the idea for the program.

Islam and Rahman prepare food hampers in St. John's as part of Project #FoodForThought in June 2020. (Paul Daly/CBC)

"We love Newfoundland and it was very heartbreaking for us to leave," Rahman said.

"So we want to make sure, moving forward, we have these opportunities in place so people are not leaving the province looking for opportunities or going to the mainland or out west, leaving their precious home."

Meanwhile, NL Eats' mobile food bank, Project #FoodForThought, is still going strong. Since beginning last year, the nonprofit has helped feed more than 800 families in the St. John's area. They've also partnered with First Light Friendship Centre on Water Street, where the food bank is housed.

"We've been graced by their help in terms of location as well as freezer and storage space," said Shourov, NL Eats co-founder and chief public relations officer. Shourov said First Light and NL Eats are pooling resources and supplies for people in need.

Rahman shares a few notes of appreciation NL Eats received after delivering food hampers last June. (Paul Daly/CBC)

Whaddya Cooking? is a newer, upcoming NL Eats project. Shourov explained that food bank users aren't always sure how to cook the food they've received in their delivery packages.

To address this, NL Eats has asked some cooking-savvy students and chefs from local restaurants to film cooking videos showcasing items from the food bank. Once the videos are complete, NL Eats plans to send along written recipe booklets with all their deliveries.

"We're very proud of that one," Shourov said.

Another NL Eats food bank-related endeavour is Fomtree — an app, currently in development, aimed at helping any food bank manage and anticipate client needs.

Moving away from the food bank side of things, there's the NL Eats Community Hub.

Now nearing 5,600 members, the Facebook group encourages diners to leave reviews for local restaurants, which is how the group got rolling in the first place. 

"It got clearer and clearer, as the pandemic kind of brimmed out, that more local businesses were suffering," said Shourov. By building up the community hub, NL Eats hopes to create awareness and level the playing field for restaurants with less of a marketing budget.

Recently, NL Eats began working with high school students across the province to create community gardens and other student-led food security projects.

They're also gearing up for Tidal Deal — an upcoming project focused on fundraising through storytelling — along with their NL Eats Road Trip.

After collecting points through different kinds of Instagram engagement, two winning duos will set out on a four-day, all-expenses paid journey across the island, collecting prizes from 48 local businesses along the way.

"It's kind of like our going-away present to Newfoundland," Rahman said.

'Come from away, but stay for good'

The family said their path to entrepreneurship hasn't been easy. They've been pitching and pursuing ideas since 2016, and not all of them have worked out.

"But if you are consistent in your efforts, it will always come through," said Rahman. "I think the biggest takeaway from our experience, overall, is never give up." 

Islam, Rahman, Fabiha Tarannum, Tabassum, Ahmed and Sazied Hassan pose at Tabassum and Ahmed's Haldi celebration. (Terry Day)

The family hopes to build more connections for NL Eats while living in Ottawa.

In the meantime, they'll keep cultivating food security solutions for the province from afar.

"We're trying to be pioneers in the sense of people helping people," said Shourov.

"And it could be people from anywhere. 'Come from away, but stay for good' is our motto, or our take on our values around culture," he added.

"And sharing cultures is what really brings people together. That's something we truly believe in."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Andrea McGuire is a journalist working with CBC in St. John's.

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