Charity during Ramadan: 200 volunteers from 36 mosques will help with downtown event

By CHRISTOPHER QUINN

http://www.ajc.com/living/content/metro/atlanta/stories/2008/09/19/atlanta_muslim_homeless.html

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Friday, September 19, 2008

Over the last few days, Muslims from across metro Atlanta have gathered in homes and mosques to prepare food and care packages for the city’s hungry and homeless.

It’s all in preparation for a giant feast today in downtown Atlanta. Organizers are hoping to feed 1,000 people.

The local effort has brought together about 200 volunteers from the 36 mosques scattered across metro Atlanta. It’s part of the Muslim community’s focus on charity during the month of Ramadan, the religion’s most holy month and a time of spiritual reflection, daytime fasting and good deeds.

It’s also a part of the nationwide Day of Dignity coordinated by Islamic Relief, a California-based charity. This is the first time that metro Atlanta Muslims have joined this national effort.

Shyam Sriram, a teacher, said he and other volunteers will be giving out blankets, tote bags, towels and hygiene kits. Workers are setting aside areas for health screenings for high blood pressure, HIV/AIDS and cholesterol.

The sponsors and organizers have been planning this day for months. Flyers have been passed out to the homeless.

Feeding the hungry while they fast is a strong reminder for Muslims of the Quran’s teachings to care for the poor, said Khayriyyah Faiz of Atlanta, one of the event coordinators.

“We feel the hunger pangs ourselves. And we are enjoined by the Quran to reflect on those who feel the hunger pangs throughout the year,” she said.

Throughout the year, Muslim groups, from student associations at Georgia Tech and Georgia State University to social groups based in mosques, serve up chicken, rice and vegetables to feed the hungry in Atlanta on a regular basis.

But the current downturn in the national economy, Faiz said, appears to be altering the landscape of need. During recent months, she has seen a change in those who come seeking free food.

“The faces of hunger are changing. At one point it was the homeless,” she said. Now there are more working poor, people who are having trouble making ends meet, she said.

She and other women volunteers began shopping and gathering plates, utensils and divvying up preparation tasks earlier this week.

Since it is the first time for an event this large, many of the organizers are eager to see what the response will be, but they expect about 1,000 participants.

The downtown mosque, Masjid Al-Jami, has been feeding the homeless on weekends and has served as many as 250 people.

Mostafa Mahboob, a spokesman for Islamic Relief, said this is the fourth year his agency has been pushing the national program.

Islamic Relief has earned a top rating of four stars from Charity Navigator, a watchdog organization.

“As word got out, we got calls from people in other cities saying they wanted to be part of it,” he said. Throughout September, volunteers in 18 cities across the U.S. expect to feed more than 25,000 people, he said.

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