To help alleviate these burdens and prevent increasing amounts of poverty, Islamic Relief USA, a nonprofit humanitarian and advocacy organization, is partnering with Imam Musa Abdul’ Ali and friends from the Yusuf Shah Islamic Center in Mount Vernon to host its annual Day of Dignity campaign. The event is scheduled to take place on Oct. 24 at the Islamic Center, located at 10 S. Second Ave.
The event serves as a one-stop shop to enable people who’re suffering from homelessness or struggling to make ends meet to gain access to basic necessities and services. People, regardless of their faith, gender, or race can pick up nonperishable food, hygiene kits, school supplies, backpacks and sanitary napkins, among other things. Previously, haircuts were provided but because of the fear of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, they will not be provided this year.
Why is it important?
We have no iIllusions that Day of Dignity will serve as a magic elixir that will solve long-standing problems. At the very least, though, it is a much-needed salve, especially given the current government intransigence. In the early months of the public health crisis there appeared to be a greater sense of urgency. This was demonstrated by the bipartisan support of a coronavirus economic stimulus package that, among other things, provided an additional $600 in weekly federal unemployment insurance, and additional funding for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
But that package expired in July, and as of this writing, it remains to be seen if another stimulus package will pass muster. Meanwhile, millions of people continue to suffer. Unemployment continues to hover at above-average levels, as only about half of the 22 million people who were laid off in the early months of the pandemic have regained employment.
Earlier this month, a Census Bureau survey found that more than 22 million people experienced occasional, if not frequent, food insecurity. This, despite 6 million more people enrolled in SNAP between February and June.
Mount Vernon and parts of the Hudson Valley are not exceptions to this trend. In Mount Vernon, for example, 35% of the city’s senior citizen population receives federal food assistance, either in the form of SNAP or other government programs, based on 2019 data. That figure has likely increased due to the coronavirus pandemic. City officials have worked actively in recent years to ensure people who’re eligible for federal food assistance programs are enrolled in them.
Just getting by in general also remains a struggle for many residents in the region. A recent report by a prominent nonprofit organization stated that there is still a “large number” of area residents who lack sufficient resources are struggling to afford health care, housing, and child care. In Westchester and Putnam counties, for example, 38% of households were just one emergency away from experiencing financial ruin. Data used for this report predated the pandemic, so it’s also likely the number of residents who are currently struggling has gone up.
Unemployment rates in both counties have also risen, based on July data. In Westchester and Putnam, joblessness stood at 12.5% and 11.2%, respectively.
Day of Dignity can help fill the need. But like its name states, it’s only for a day. The question we as a society have to ask is the following: how we can prevent inequality and inequity in the long term?
The answer to that, unfortunately, is anything but straightforward. But we have to continue trying.
Sharif Aly is the chief executive officer of Islamic Relief USA, which works with local organizations to combat poverty.”