Sunday, September 14, 2008
BY AARON DOME
Special to the Gazette
Dozens of needy citizens huddled under a tent in the Saturday morning rain, ready to collect basic necessities such as toothpaste, clothing and a meal.
They were the first of an expected 700 participants in the Day of Dignity event at Kalamazoos Martin Luther King Park. Sponsored by Islamic Relief USA and staffed by volunteers from local Islamic organizations, the event was the first of four to be held here on weekends during the month of Ramadan.
Among the volunteers Saturday was Alexandria Osborne, of the Kalamazoo Islamic Center. She said that Ramadan is a month of charity and fasting for Muslims.
“People in Kalamazoo will be surprised by the needy here in the community,” she said. “Many people have an Islamic-phobia and we want to show the area that Muslims are part of the community, too. Charity is part of the Islamic faith.”
Zarinah El-Amin Naeem is the lead coordinator for the event. Opening a large box of tote bags for the needy to collect their items, she said that this is the second year for the Day of Dignity in Kalamazoo.
“Its an all-volunteer effort. All of these items were donated by Kalamazoo area organizations. These tote bags came from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Chris and Cynthia Ridderbos were among the first in line. They said that they both have been without work for the last 11 months and reside in the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission.
“Ive seen the homeless population increase in the past year,” Cynthia Ridderbos said. “Everyone used to sleep on cots, but now there are too many people and we sleep on the floor.”
Melissa Samuels was also in the queue. She said that Kalamazoo should have more events like this for those less fortunate.
“When you have a community like this that helps the poor its a blessing,” she said. “Its hard to go to individual people and ask for help. God always has love for us that don’t cost anything.”
Nasim Ansari stood manning a table full of school supplies and toys. Ansari works with Kalamazoo Lend A Hand, an area nonprofit organization that works with needy children.
“We just distributed 325 backpacks to six area schools,” he said. “If we missed any kids in the schools, we hope to get them here.”