Charity push distributes food to Philly families observing Ramadan

(Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Samaria Bailey

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Ramadan and Eid Fund (PREF) gave out 250 boxes of fresh produce and Halal meats to families observing Ramadan, on Friday afternoon at the Philadelphia Masjid.

PREF partnered with Muslims Serve for the food distribution.

The effort was organized as a response to the disruption caused by the coronavirus during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Organizers said the pandemic has left some families without access to the congregational Iftar, the dinner to break the daily fast, that is usually offered at masjids and serves hundreds to thousands, depending on the masjid.

“Last year in 2019, the Philadelphia Ramadan and Eid Fund – we hosted Iftar dinners at the Please Touch Museum and the Philly Eid in the Park, a huge festival of 15,000. We are the lead organization in this city with a focus on serving the city for Ramadan and Eid, so we had to quickly design an alternative plan for how we would support local families who observe Ramadan, because of the coronavirus,” said Salima Suswell, PREF Founder.

“Because, what happens every evening during Ramadan, Muslims in this city know they will get a free meal at any masjid in this city. Because we can’t gather, it’s a loss for our people. Our organization developed an alternative… so we could serve their needs and provide for them.”

From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., families lined up outside the masjid and picked up the boxes of food, which Suswell said could feed up to a family of 10 for three to five days.

Sheriff Rochelle Bilal was also on hand to give out mail in ballots and advise the people on the process. Several families said the effort was needed.

“I’m a school bus driver and a lot of us can’t get help with unemployment [benefits]. We don’t have advocates. We can’t get in touch with the unemployment [office]. A lot of us have given up,” said Amanda, a mother from Southwest Philadelphia who picked up food with her young daughter.

Amanda, who said she did not want to give her last name, added that the food was an especial help because she and other bus drivers will not be able to go back to work until September. “This is a blessing,” she said.

T. Naim Shaheed, of West Philadelphia who picked up food for his family, agreed.

“We don’t know how long the [virus] is going to be going on, so every little bit helps,” said Shaheed. “I’m a professional painter – all my work is stopped. I got to sneak to work. It’s hard when you work for yourself. My wife, she’s a nurse, that balances things out but this helps.”

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Shaheed added that the effort was symbolic of how Muslims regularly practice their faith through giving, noting that the food he could not use, he would give to other families.

“We are fasting, so most of the stuff I’m going to have to give away,” he said. “As Muslims, we do this anyway.”

Sheriff Bilal said she appreciated the unity of the effort.

“They are showing that everybody is working together,” she said. “Everybody is trying to help. Everybody is doing their part to make sure families without, have food.”

Bilal added that the mail in ballot component was also important because “we want to make sure everybody gets a chance to vote. We got to get rid of what is in there, yesterday.”

Among the volunteers was SHARE Executive Director George Matysik. SHARE provided all the produce, which Matysik said amounted to 2500 pounds just for the day. They plan to continue to support PREF.

“We’ve been working with community partners to make sure everybody can get food,” he said. “We’ve distributed four million pounds in March alone.”

Suswell said the next food distribution is scheduled for May 15.

At the end of Ramadan, PREF will also distribute meals and Eid gift baskets to families across the city.

“We will cover more families for Eid al-Fitr with the support of local legislators,” said Suswell. “We will be bringing hot meals to families and Eid baskets with games, books and toys, so they can enjoy the spirit of Ramadan and Eid in their homes.”

Samaria Bailey is a correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.