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Dirt bikes, ATV’s, armored rescue vehicles, mobile command centers, fire trucks and all sorts of first responder vehicles were on display in front of The Canyon Country Community Center on Saturday for the annual Heroes Banquet. 

The banquet was hosted by the Human Ummah Foundation, known as HUF, which is a local nonprofit that aims to bridge the Santa Clarita Valley’s Muslim community with other communities, foundations and organizations such as first responders.  

Junaid Khan, financial officer and founder of HUF, said one of the reasons he wanted to commemorate first responders was personal. Khan said that during the 2016 Sand Canyon fire, firefighters were able to protect his home and that without them he would have lost everything.  

“It was protected — fire wasn’t too far from it,” said Khan. “If they wouldn’t have done a good job, guess what would have happened? The house would have been burnt.”  

Khan said in response to the fires, HUF decided to support first responders in any way they could. HUF does this solely on contributions from its members.  

“We have a little bit [of] restrictions in terms of how big the funding is that we have, it’s just few of us that fund money from our own pocket,” said Khan. “So it is an individual and few family and friends funding that they put it together.” 

SCV Sheriff’s Station Capt. Justin Diez also noted that the Sand Canyon fires were among the reasons the Muslim community reached out to help, as many in the community were living in Sand Canyon at the time.  

“Although there were 20 homes with that fire we lost back in there…afterwards, the community got together and they wanted to do a thank you to police and fire,” said Diez. “It’s an unlikely partnership that probably would never have happened had it not been for the Sandfire. And then the HUF foundation reaching out to both departments, the sheriff’s and the Fire Department, for the heroes banquet. So, pretty unique actually.” 

Muneeb Wani, secretary of HUF, and Diez both said the banquet served another purpose as well, to build trust between Muslims in Santa Clarita and law enforcement.  

“So this is an ongoing, you know, trust-building exercise, right? And this is the combination of all that, where we bring them in and actually recognize them in front of the public,” said Wani. “I don’t think the Muslim community has any particular trust issues more than anybody else does…but I think it is important for us that since we are the minority, a growing minority, I think it’s important that we start on the right footing and then actually start building that trust right from the beginning.” 

“Absolutely. And that’s perfectly said,” Diez said when asked if he thought the event was building trust. “The best part is the kids… obviously kids aren’t going to have any interaction with law enforcement unless it’s an event like this, where they can play on the cars and stuff. So, yes, it’s especially important to get the kids out here and have them feel comfortable with us.” 

Junaid Khan, left, Board Member of the Human Ummah Foundation and Gloria Mercado-Fortine, President of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Foundation prepare for photos with first responders and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s and Los Angeles County Fire equipment on display during Human Ummah Foundation event recognizing first responders held at the Canyon Country Community Center in Canyon Country on Saturday, 050722. Dan Watson/The Signal

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