MONTREAL -- Muslims around the world knew that this year's month of Ramadan would be very different than in years past with the COVID-19 pandemic barring gatherings and communal activities.

Members of the Ismaili Council for Quebec and the Maritimes decided to respond to the holy month by giving Muslims an opportunity to give back.

“The month of Ramadan is a time of heightened commitment to piety and purification through special observances such as fasting, the performance of good deeds – including charitable and voluntary service – and through sacrifices of material comforts,” said spokesperson Kanwal Hayat. “This Ramadan was unlike any other, and the challenges faced by Canadians lie at the heart of two key activities that we undertook.”

The Ismaili Civic launched “United We Sew” with a goal of making and distributing 10,000 homemade masks across the country. In addition, the organization partnered with local grocers on a food drive to donate non-perishable items to food banks across the country.

“For us giving back is part of our community. It’s a blessing to give and an opportunity to give back,” said volunteer Fahima Sultani.

Sultani was named the hero of the day by the La Fédération des femmes d'affaires et professionnelle Montreal last week.

Volunteers have made close to 2,000 masks and delivered them in Montreal and Ottawa thus far.

Masks have been delivered to the Saint Elizabeth Heath Care centres in Montreal and Ottawa, the Welcome Mission Hall in Montreal and Pavillon Marguerite de Champlain women’s shelter in Brossard.

“These masks could not have come at a better time and will be most useful,” reads a letter from Marguerite de Champlain director Deborah Pearson. “It is actions such as yours and your community that encourage us to continue to help others in need and to better our services.”

Sultani has volunteered for the organization since it launched in 2017, but her calling to volunteer goes back much further.

“I have been volunteering since I was 12 years old,” said Sultani, who works in social services support for immigrants. “I can’t sleep if I don’t serve.”

Next week, volunteers will drop off masks at a seniors’ centre in Montreal in addition to other locations.

Members donated all the material to make the masks including one particular item that has been hard to come by.

“Everyone is contributing,” said Sultani. “The issue was elastics. There was a shortage, and we could not get it… We really encourage the sense of contribution within the community. Some people make like 20 masks and that’s okay. That 20 masks is 20 people.”

She said the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive as Muslims looked to give back during Ramandan.

“They were happy,” said Sultani. “They were thanking me and giving me so many prayers that during this pandemic, during the month of Ramadan, we gave them a chance to contribute to society. It was very, very well received.”