United4Yeg is teen-powered and driven to make a difference

As part of our Make the Season Kind campaign, CBC Edmonton is highlighting the work our community has done to help others in 2021.

The group of volunteers behind United4Yeg is driven to make a difference.

In the past 13 months, its seven members have travelled from one doorstep to the next, collecting more than 1,000 kilograms of goods for Edmonton’s Food Bank, hundreds of dollars in charitable donations, and school supplies for young students.

All without missing a beat on their homework.

“The pandemic kind of sparked the idea to create this organization,” said Afia Rehmani, the group’s 18-year-old founder. 

Now a first-year science student at the University of Alberta, Rehmani was a Grade 12 student at Lillian Osborne High School when the shift to online classes in 2020 put an end to both classroom learning and school-based volunteer activities, she said.

To fill that gap, Rehmani created United4Yeg and then conscripted some of her friends to get involved.

United4Yeg’s Afia Rehmani, left, and Quinn Downes with a load of food collected during the organization’s first food drive in December 2020. (Submitted by Asif Rehmani)

Using social media to spread the word and armed with the keys to their family automobiles to pick them up, the group has now held about a half-dozen donation drives for agencies including Edmonton’s Food Bank, Edmonton Public Schools Foundation and Islamic Relief Canada.

“People contact us through Instagram direct message or Facebook direct message,” Rehmani said. “Then we assign volunteers to specific houses, and then those volunteers directly co-ordinate with the donors and go pick up the items.” 

Their results, all of which the group posts on its social media feeds, are impressive.

The group’s first drive for the food bank in December 2020 collected 337 kilograms — that’s almost 750 pounds — of food. United4Yeg followed it up in March with a toiletries drive, seeking items like diapers, toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo, baby wipes and new socks or underwear. 

More recently, it did a back-to-school drive gathering supplies like pens, notebooks, paper, glue sticks and backpacks.

United4Yeg collaborated with Fajar Haq, an educator and friend to some of the organization’s volunteers, to run a school supply drive in support of EPS Foundation. (Fajar Haq)

Rehmani and social media co-ordinator Fatima Shifa said the impact of their work really hit home when the public schools foundation posted a photo of the supplies being distributed to children.

“It kind of hit home and it was like ‘We’re actually doing something good. We see our donations at work,” said Shifa, who is also one of the group’s volunteer drivers.

That sense of accomplishment is accompanied by gratitude for being able to help, Rehmani said. 

“It kind of keeps us centred and grounded — like, it makes us realize that we shouldn’t take what we have for granted, ” she said.

“The pandemic was keeping all of us isolated in our homes and away from meeting people. So this organization — for not just me but my entire group and the entire community of Edmonton — it brings us together and it shows that we are united still, despite a pandemic overtop of us.”

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