A hamper drive is helping these St. John's students make the most of a challenging Ramadan
Students have bought groceries for dozens of people
Ramadan is usually one of the most social months of the year for Muslims, although international student Akheel Mohammed can only describe this year as "difficult" because of COVID-19 restrictions.
But Mohammed and a group of other Muslim students are trying to make it easier for some.
The Muslim Students Association at Memorial University is offering iftar hampers to students and families who are fasting from dawn to dusk and anyone else in the community who may be struggling.
"As soon as Ramadan started we were like, 'We have to do this, we have to do something for the community,'" said Mohammed, a second-year mechanical engineering student from India.
This is a very, very different Ramadan for every single Muslim.- Akheel Mohammed
"We know out there people are suffering and some people are not well."
He said the suffering is evident by the numbers of names his group has collected.
Mohammed said when the association opened registration on a Facebook page, they thought they would get maybe 50 or 60 people.
It was double that in the first week.
By their third week, the handful of Muslim students has delivered over 200 hampers.
"We were quite surprised," he said. "It's really sad to see because this pandemic has been hitting everyone really hard."
People who are seeking help can register on the association's Facebook page. Every Friday, groceries are delivered using a contactless system.
Each hamper costs between $20 to $25 to supply, which means the group is relying on donations through Facebook, GoFundMe and the local Muslim community.
"Before we could even ask for donations, they were ready to give," said Mohammed.
The best part of the initiative, according to Mohammed, is the reactions they get from people after they've been helped.
Because of the contactless delivery system, the group says it receives kind words through video messages and Facebook messages.
"That is the most happiest part in the whole process."
Students celebrate without family and friends
Ramadan, Islam's holiest month, is a time for self-reflection and self-discipline while spending time with friends and family.
But with COVID-19 safety measures in place, large iftar dinners with friends and family are prohibited.
"This is a very, very different Ramadan for every single Muslim," said Mohammed. "It's really, really difficult. It's unusual."
"The most important part of Ramadan is missing," he said, referring to communal "tarawih" prayers that happen every night in mosques around the world.
But he said as international students they are sticking together to make this year's Ramadan the best they can.
"We are really glad to do this work for Canadians and everyone.… It really brings joy to all of the international students."