'Boosted our morale': Queen gives royal shout-out to Canadian charity
VANCOUVER -- For the past several weeks, Upkar Tatlay has been dropping off groceries at shelters, food banks and other Metro Vancouver charities during the pandemic.
Imagine his surprise when one of those mundane moments was captured on camera and later posted on the Royal Family’s social media channels.
“I don't know if you can see in the photo, but I was probably sweating up a bit. I was putting in some work, so huffing and puffing, and didn't really know what was going on around me at the time,” Tatlay said.
He’s part of an army of volunteers with Khalsa Aid, an international Sikh-based charity that started in the United Kingdom and has expanded to Canada.
On the Queen’s Twitter account Thursday, a select few organizations were recognized for helping to feed the hungry during the COVID-19 crisis.
“#Foodheroes across the Commonwealth are working to support communities during the outbeak,” the tweet read. “(Khalsa Aid Canada has) been delivering groceries and care packs for those self-isolating in need across Canada.”
Jatinder Singh, director of Khalsa Aid Canada, is a British expat and said he was shocked when he saw the Twitter notification.
“I had to first check to make sure it wasn't a parody account. And when I saw they had several million followers and it was a real account, it was quite a surprise,” Singh said. “To see this acknowledgement from the Royal Family – and to be the charity that was mentioned within Canada – was certainly something that boosted our morale.”
Now, the Queen’s 4.7 million followers will be able to see some of the work they do.
Singh said all of the funding comes from the generosity of those in the Sikh community. Originally, the group wanted to do food drop-offs to food banks to celebrate Sikh Heritage Month in April. Those plans changed once they realized many groups were struggling during the pandemic.
“What we've done now is really work with them to see where their gaps are and what's missing, and we've been providing them with that food aid as best as we can,” he said.
Across Canada, up to 5,000 grocery drop-offs have been made, feeding up to 10,000 people.
In the Lower Mainland, the group is providing food to Surrey Memorial Hospital, Jewish Family Services in Vancouver, Sanctuary Health in the Downtown Eastside, Source Food Bank in Langley and Surrey Urban Mission Shelter.
“We provide food items for about 1,000 people a week,” said Tatlay. “That number seems to be increasing, unfortunately, as time goes on. There is a big need for it … We're there to make sure that everyone is fed and getting the necessities.”
Romeo Kabanda, the director of operations for the Surrey Urban Mission Shelter, said help from organizations like Khalsa Aid Canada has made an incredible impact.
“A couple of weeks ago, when the pandemic got out of hand, we began being low on food,” he explained. “Usually we rely on donations, but a lot of supermarkets and a lot of people are suffering.”
He said someone from Khalsa Aid reached out, and the group has been dropping off groceries every Sunday.
He said those groceries have now made it possible to feed up to 60 people every day who rely on a bagged meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“Without them, without any other donations, it will be very, very difficult to serve that amount of people,” Kabanda said.
He said like many volunteers, people with Khalsa Aid likely weren’t helping out of a desire for acknowledgement, but the shout-out from the Queen was “a bonus.”
“They did it just purely out of love and just care for other human beings, and the fact that they got recognition is just the least that they deserve, to be honest,” Kabanda said.
Singh said they will continue to help communities in need until the pandemic is over.
People in B.C. who want to inquire about getting help from Khalsa Aid are encouraged to contact 211.