Metro Morning

Food bank for Syrian refugees can't keep up with demand for Middle Eastern food

The food bank at the Mississauga Muslim Community Centre is seeking Middle Eastern donations like labneh, cumin seed and grape leaves to help Syrian newcomers feel at home.

Mississauga food bank seeks labneh, cumin seed, grape leaves to help newcomers feel at home

Najam Syed says there is a lack of culturally appropriate food for Syrian newcomers at the food bank he runs. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

A food bank in Mississauga used by the Syrian newcomer community says it is unable to keep up with the demand for Middle Eastern food.

Staples like rice, chickpeas, and halal meat are all sought after, according to Najam Syed, head of food bank operations at the Mississauga Muslim Community Centre.

"We can furnish only about 40 per cent of the need," said Syed, speaking on CBC's Metro Morning on Wednesday.

He said that since Syrian refugees began arriving in Canada in large numbers last year, his centre's food bank's numbers "shot up."

"We went from 50 to 210 families," he said.

Seeking food that is 'comfortable'

Syed's centre aims to provide the families with Middle Eastern foods that will make them feel at home. "It boils down to the fact that [it's the food] you feel comfortable with," he said. 

That food can be hard to come by.

"We partner with other food banks and rely on donations," explained Syed, listing cumin seed, labneh, cucumbers, grape leaves, and Arabic cheese as items they need more of.

Syed said his food bank's store room could use more mediterranean foods like olives and tahini. (Submitted by Najam Syed)

Families who can't get the food they're comfortable with face a difficult choice: shell out for food at the store, or go without.

"These families have an average of five to six members," said Syed. "Grocery bills pile up."

Syed said that the government has played a "phenomenal role" in bringing in refugees and helping them start new lives. "Now, I think the community, working with them, should play a role."  

He said we shouldn't expect Syrian newcomers to drop their food traditions when they arrive.

"I give the analogy of a child," he said. "First it has to crawl, and after a while it's walking. That child might turn into an athlete one day. But at first, you have to hold its hand."

Sounds of the Season is CBC Toronto's annual charity drive. Please visit our website for details on the Dec. 2 event and how you can support local food banks.

With files from Metro Morning