Saskatchewan

Regina man who lost parents to COVID-19 channels grief into food drive supporting hundreds

After his father died from COVID-19 in January, Haris Khan decided he would expand a drive to collect and distribute food to dozens of community members during Ramadan.

Haris Khan began project to feed others during Ramadan in honour of his late father

Haris Khan and Tahir Shaikh collect food from a local restaurant to deliver to people across Regina. Khan began the food drive in honour of his late father, who died from COVID-19, to help people during the holy month of Ramadan. (Janani Whitfield/CBC)

Two days before his 31st birthday this year, Haris Khan lost his father to COVID-19. 

Even as he and his siblings were grieving for their father, their mother died on April 22, following complications that developed after she too was diagnosed with COVID-19.

"It has been an extremely difficult time for myself, my siblings, losing my parents within three months. I could have never, ever imagined this happened to me," Khan said.

"I don't wish it happens to anybody."

Haris Khan and his siblings lost both their parents to COVID-19 this year, a loss he describes as "extremely difficult." (GoFundMe)

After his father's death in January, Khan reflected on the lessons his father shared with him about the importance of kindness and charity. 

Last year, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Khan helped organize a food drive to collect iftar, the meal Muslims eat following sunset to break their day-long fast.

This year, he decided to significantly expand the iftar drive and distribute meals to people across Regina during Ramadan — which began on April 13 and ends next Wednesday — primarily for university students juggling their studies, work and their religious observances.

"I spearheaded this program in memory of my dad. I didn't know it in the middle of it, [but] I would be doing it for my mother as well," he said.

With help from other volunteers and community contributions, Khan has been able to purchase 50 to 60 meals every day that he and others drop off outside people's homes.

Those meals aren't just for their fellow Muslims who are also fasting, but also for other friends and community members they know could use the lift in an isolating time. 

Community members have been helping Khan in his food drive, donating items to distribute to 50 to 60 people per evening. (Submitted by Haris Khan)

Khan saw one woman who posted on social media about struggling with personal difficulties and made it a mission to include her in the drive. The response, he said, was astounding.

"I showed up with a meal, with a smile. I talked to her and that made her day," he said. "A small gesture can go a long way, especially where people are by themselves in isolation." 

Khan and his fellow volunteers pick up the meals from various Regina restaurants they're supporting, before driving them to different locations throughout the city for a masked door-drop delivery. 

Roshelle Montgomery knows the grief of losing a loved one. Her husband Warren Montgomery died on April 20, after a diagnosis of COVID-19. 

Khan, a former colleague of her husband, contacted her and said he'd like to bring her food.

"Oh Haris," she recalled telling him. "First of all, I have so much support, I don't need anything. You're dealing with your own grief, just take care of yourself."

Khan insisted it was a family tradition he wanted to carry out. 

He arrived two weeks after the date of her husband's death.

"I was having a really bad day, it was my hardest day yet," she said.

Montgomery said seeing Khan at her doorstep with his hands full of food was a strong demonstration of how people could show love and care for one another. 

"I know my family is not the only one going through this. And I know there are people obviously going through this alone," she said.

Roshelle Montgomery says an act of kindness in the wake of her husband Warren's death has inspired her to see what her and her children might do to help others and themselves as they grieve his loss. (Submitted by Kandace Holness/GoFundMe)

It has inspired Montgomery to think about what she and her children could do to help someone else who may be struggling.

"Even though you're in your own grief, maybe paying it forward, it helps yourself heal."

Khan says before his mother's death, he was able to tell her what he planned to do in honour of his father. 

Now, he feels confident that she knows he is doing it for her as well.

"I'm sure they would be really proud, because this is all their teaching that I'm helping others."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janani Whitfield works on CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition. Contact her at janani.whitfield@cbc.ca or on Twitter, @WhitfieldJanani.

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