Vancouver’s Suhaila Hamed has been volunteering at The Salvation Army so much that her seven-year-old daughter thinks she’s “working for Santa.”
“She thinks I’m an elf,” Hamed said with a laugh.The 41-year-old mother of three is a regular volunteer at the charity’s Vancouver Community and Family Services — one of 27 community organizations sponsored by The Province’s Empty Stocking Fund. While she donates her time year-round, she’s currently helping the organization with its Christmas Assistance program by packing food hampers and toy gifts that will go to local families in need over the holidays.
“I want (to volunteer) every day,” said Hamed. “I love kids and I love to help, and The Salvation Army has been helping my family a lot.”Hamed and her children landed in Vancouver 20 years ago after fleeing Iraq. While she escaped the dangers of the war-torn country, the rest of her family stayed, so she was left alone in her struggle to adapt to Canadian life.“It was very challenging for me,” she said, adding that it was — and still is — difficult to make friends and establish a sense of community. “It’s loneliness I feel.”
And with little knowledge of the English language, she struggled to get on her feet.Fortunately, she was connected with The Salvation Army on Fraser Street, where she registered for a number of programs, including Christmas Assistance, which has provided the family with holiday dinners and gifts over the years.While Hamed has since settled, gone to school and landed a job as an on-call nursing aide, her income is still “not that high,” so she continues to qualify for the charity’s holiday program.“It’s really, really helpful for me,” she said, adding that because of the program she’s able to have her children — Ala, now a 27-year-old hair stylist and Artin, now a 25-year-old business student — over for turkey dinner, as well as put gifts under the tree for Lana, 7.“That’s why … I’m so happy when I volunteer there,” said Hamed. “I appreciate that they’ve been helping me all these years to (raise) my children. They’ve become such great kids because … they live in Canada.”
“I want to prove how much I appreciate to be in this country.”According to Deb Lowell, who’s worked for The Salvation Army for the past 30 years, it’s “quite often” that she sees people like Hamed, who’ve been personally impacted by the charity, donate their time.“People that we’ve assisted in the past will start to volunteer for us and they’ll even become staff members,” said Lowell. “When they’re back on their feet and moving towards independence, they often feel that they want to give back.”“And who better to offer hope to somebody else than someone who really, truly understands, because they’ve been where you are.”
Story Credit: Larissa Cahute, The Province