Syrian family gives back by helping Ottawa Food Bank

Members of an extended family of Syrian refugees served up a delicious meal of homemade specialties to say thank you to the Ottawa church congregation that sponsored them, and to raise money for the Ottawa Food Bank.

Family of newcomers cooks, serves Syrian dinner as part of church's fundraising effort

Elias Ghusin and Lodi Ghossen, who are brother and sister, volunteered at the Ottawa Mennonite Church's high tea on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. The two also volunteered at a big Syrian dinner on Friday, Nov. 3, to raise money for the Ottawa Food Bank.

Every year at this time, the Ottawa Mennonite Church holds a fair trade Christmas market, with proceeds going to the Ottawa Food Bank. Volunteers make it all happen.

This year, one group of volunteers has a special reason for wanting to give back.

They're members of a Syrian family who arrived in Canada as refugees over the last three years, and they wanted to say thank you to the congregation that sponsored them to come here, and has supported them since.

"When we came to Canada, the sponsors at the Ottawa Mennonite Church did a lot to help and sponsor and guide us," Lodi Ghossen said in an interview with CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning for Project Give.

"When I first came to Canada [I had] a lot of stress because I changed my city, my country. But now I feel very comfortable, especially when I came to this church."

High tea, borscht

One event leading up to the annual market is a high tea, with borscht and Mennonite desserts served by volunteers. A new addition this year was a Syrian dinner with hummus, tabbouleh, pita, and spinach and cheese pies prepared by the newcomers for nearly 300 guests. 

Elias Ghusin, who is Lodi's brother but spells his last name differently, said the Syrian dinner was the church's idea, but that he and his family were happy to make the event happen. 

Elias Ghusin played the role of waiter at the Ottawa Mennonite Church's high tea event.

Maria Rigby has been volunteering with the Ottawa Mennonite Church for years and said the refugees — even those who've only been in Canada a few weeks — were eager to help out in any way they could. Some volunteered at the high tea last year and really embraced the spirit of the event despite speaking very little English, Rigby said. 

"One of the women, she was very shy last year, so shy she could hardly speak. We didn't know how good her English was. She went basically from a level two to a level six in English, which is an amazing leap."

"This year she's going to be one of our servers and go around and offer people tea and take the orders," Rigby added. "She and her husband were the ones who spearheaded the Syrian dinner."

Lodi Ghusin said the dinner was a success, and that helping out made the volunteers happy as well as helping the food bank.