Congregations unite to dispense to needy

Food, utensils and linens are given out

Times-Picayune

October 15, 2006

By Kate Moran

Staff writer

Two Central City faith congregations — one Muslim and one Baptist — came together Saturday to dish out plates of crawfish etouffee and pass out linens and kitchen utensils to New Orleanians who need assistance more than a year after Hurricane Katrina.

Crowds were light inside the Magnolia Farmers Market on Simon Bolivar Avenue, but the line outside was continually replenished with new people waiting for a chance to haul away boxes filled with pillows, sheets and towels. By midday, more than 700 people had accepted donations.

Wali Abdel-Raoof, imam at the nearby New Orleans Masjid of Al-Islam, said many of the humanitarian groups that descended on the city after Katrina have left now that the storm no longer dominates national headlines.

Although his mosque flooded and hasn’t yet resumed services, he said the congregation is maintaining a neighborhood presence with a food pantry open Monday through Wednesday each week.

Abdel-Raoof said the spirit of many residents seems low as a result of their recovery struggle. With so much attention focused on putting buildings and infrastructure back together, there seem to be few venues for tending to emotional needs, he said. The imam said he was trying to provide a dose of fellowship along with the hot meals and boxes of kitchen supplies.

“We want to address their concerns while helping people maintain their dignity and humanity,” he said.

Saturday’s gathering was sponsored by Islamic Relief, a nonprofit group that organized events in 14 cities, including Baltimore, Dallas, Newark and New York, to coincide with Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims are urged to help the needy.

But the New Orleans event had an ecumenical flavor. The Rev. James Russ of St. Paul Community Baptist Church, next to the market, opened his building to volunteers preparing food.

He also hung signs with biblical themes around the neighborhood. He said the signs might comfort motorists passing through the busy intersection at Jackson and Simon Bolivar avenues.

“Central City can be a positive place in a negative world,” Russ said.

Another Islamic Relief event will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at Alaska Street Park in Baton Rouge.

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