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Inspired by generosity 40 years ago, Surrey store owner giving away groceries to Syrian refugees

January 20, 2016

By Tom Zytaruk, Surrey Now |

A Surrey grocery store chain owner is providing Syrian refugees with free groceries, inspired by an elderly lady’s generosity to his family 40 years ago.

Fruiticana founder and president Tony Singh has for the past 10 days been delivering free baskets of food to Syrian refugees as they arrive, and will deliver more today (Thursday) in Guildford and onward.

Some 500 Syrian refugees are expected to benefit from his generous gesture.

“Actions that are positive help build communities and produce positive results,” said Singh, who employs 500 workers at 18 grocery store locations in B.C. and Alberta. “If 600 show up, we will provide.”

Eight stores are in Surrey.

“I became a successful businessperson and Canadian because of a simple and powerful message,” he said. “I am sure many of these refugees, especially the children, will go on to make many positive contributions to Canada in the future.”

Singh recalled arriving as a new immigrant to Canada in 1975, when he was 10 years old, and a neighbour’s generosity on his second day here. His family came from Punjab and were living in an apartment in Toronto at the time. They didn’t speak a word of English.

“Our neighbour invited us over for dinner,” he recalled. “The simple gesture had such a profound impact on me and my life. It showed me what it means to be Canadian. I wanted to pass on that same special feeling to these Syrian refugees arriving in Canada.”

Singh hopes his gifts today of grocery baskets will inspire the refugees “to one day become great Canadians.”

Decades have passed and Singh doesn’t remember much about the trip from India to Canada but their next door neighbour’s generous act was indelibly impressed on him. He even remembers what they ate – a slice of pizza, and a popsicle.

“That’s the memory that stuck with me, after 40 years.”

Singh opened his first grocery store in Surrey in 1994. Today, his chain enjoys annual sales surpassing $100 million. He has received numerous honours, as recipient of Surrey Board of Trade’s Businessperson of the Year award, the Premier’s People’s Choice Award for 2014 Business BC Awards, and other accolades.

Each package, he said, contains enough food to feed five people for about a week and contain groceries familiar to the recipients – chick peas, pita bread, olives, cheeses, yoghurt, flour, milk, juice and cookies. They will also contain treats for the children, in tribute to the popsicle he enjoyed as a boy.

“There’s enough food to last a week or even more,” Singh said. “So there’s something in the fridge to eat, right away.”

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