Nfld. & Labrador

Food bank in the bubble: How this family launched a service from their home

Their Facebook page was originally about restaurant views. COVID-19 gave NL Eats a whole new purpose, writes Adam Walsh.

Their Facebook page was originally about restaurant views. COVID-19 gave NL Eats a whole new purpose

The whole NL Eats family team. Mehnaz Tabassum, left, stands with sister Fabiha Tarannum, brother Mahmudul Islam Shourov, brother Adib Rahman and her fiancé Saif Ahmed.  (Submitted by Mehnaz Tabassum)

Without leaving their bubble of physical distancing, Mehnaz Tabassum and her family are working on a project that's touching dozens of people in St. John's who need food.

"When this pandemic happened, we just wanted to do something to bring the entire community together," said Tabassum, a recent Memorial University business grad who works with the federal government in St. John's. 

The family already had a food-related page on Facebook called NL Eats. The page described itself as a place where "foodies" could share information and post reviews about spots around town.

Now it's the landing page for Project #FoodForThoughtNL — a community-driven food bank that delivers food to anyone who needs it.

Like many a good idea, this one came up while sitting around the family dinner table.

Food is being organized for distribution on a list that is now 135 requests long, and growing. (Submitted by Mehnaz Tabassum )

"We are home, we are eating good food, what can we do to help the people out there?" said Tabassum.

The family unit consists of Tabassum, her fiancé, two brothers and a sister. Together they have a mix of business, marketing, restaurant and administrative experience, which makes them well equipped for planning this kind of venture.

They pooled their own money, reached out to family and friends for support, and got started. 

Idea took off instantly

They posted their plan on the NL Eats page and things immediately took off.

"You wouldn't believe the amount of people who came forward to help and also the amount of people who needed help," said Tabassum.

"It was very overwhelming and then we realized it was actually bigger than we imagined or pictured. This is something the province needs right now."

Tabassum's brother, Adib Rahman, who is working as a chef while studying business at MUN, said it's a humbling experience.

"You wish that there was something more you could do to help but at the same time you're glad you're there to help," he said.

The help they're arranging comes in the form of no-contact drop-offs by volunteers.

Contactless delivery 

Packages are left at people's front doors and then volunteers return to their vehicles and phone to let people know the food has arrived.

We realized it was actually bigger than we imagined or pictured. This is something the province needs right now.- Mehnaz Tabassum

Tabassum said they also also do COVID-19 screening of everyone involved in the process and that they make sure to follow enhanced safety protocols that the Newfoundland and Labrador government has laid out.

At least 55 deliveries have been completed on a list that includes 135 requests, and growing.

The list includes seniors, people who are immunocompromised, new Canadians and single parents.

"There's a lot of people who don't have that avenue to go to a grocery store, or they're sick or they're not in the health condition, or they don't live close to a food bank," said Tabassum.

"But we plan to help everyone who signs up. That's our goal right now," she said.

'It really blew my mind'

Mathew Della Vale and his wife Alicia are two people whom NL Eats team has been able to help. Della Vale said because of challenges that include his post-traumatic stress disorder, they have been on complete lockdown for more than a month.

"We have some barriers. I have PTSD. My wife, she's in a wheelchair and has severe asthma. So it's a big risk for us to go out there," said Della Vale.

Mathew and Alicia Della Vale are two of the people who have received a food package from NL Eats. (Submitted by Mehnaz Tabassum )

Katherin Stuckless, a single mom with an autoimmune disease, also was connected for some assistance.

"It's very overwhelming sometimes," she said, describing daily life in the pandemic.

Stuckless said she was in tears not knowing where help was going to come from when she found out about NL Eats.

"To be able to get that help was just amazing. It really blew my mind," she said.

Ashley Tollefsen, who is diabetic and also suffers from PTSD, says she has difficulty at the best of times going outside to run errands.

She said after getting in touch with NL Eats, volunteers brought her enough food for a week, which was immensely helpful given her circumstances.

"Thank god in this community and this city there are people who will help."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 


Adam Walsh

CBC News

Adam Walsh is a CBC journalist. He works primarily for the St. John's Morning Show, and contributes to television and digital programming.