Volunteer work becomes life’s work - Islamic Relief USA

Calif. native opts to stay after storm

By Jared Janes, Advocate staff writer

The Advocate

September 30, 2007

As the needy walked down a line of tables set up in a BREC gym Saturday afternoon, grabbing toys for their children and care packages for themselves, Ruben Vaughan said as he watched the procession that it was the reason he stayed in Louisiana.

Vaughan, a California native who played football at the University of Oregon, came to Louisiana as a volunteer in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

But, Vaughan said, after he saw there would be continued need in the area, not just by evacuees but also by the public, he applied for a job as the Gulf Coast project coordinator for Islamic Relief USA, the largest Muslim charity in the nation.

“I came down here, saw the poverty and wanted to stay,” Vaughan said Saturday at the charity’s Humanitarian Day event. “This is us wanting to give back.”

Baton Rouge men, women and children filed through the gym door at BREC’s Kernan Avenue Park, 333 Kernan Ave., throughout the afternoon Saturday, seeking a warm meal or a gift package.

They were met inside the gym by men and women of all faiths offering care packages containing school supplies, hygiene kits and toys.

Outside, a Maringouin family served beef stew, corn, bread and peaches into Styrofoam containers, stacking the containers several high in the hands of some people.

With enough food prepared for 750 people, one cook said, there was plenty to give away.

Tasha Harris, a Baton Rouge mother of three, sat in a metal chair at the back of the park as she filled out a survey while her children played in the park.

With bags for her children and herself at her feet, Harris said she decided to come to the event after a woman knocked on her door and offered a flier.

After Harris’ daughter ran up to her and asked to go ride one of the ponies brought to the park for the event, Harris watched the child run away, and turned back to her survey.

“It’s nice to have this available,” Harris said.

Humanitarian Day, funded by Islamic Relief, a worldwide organization that helps the poor, is being held in 19 cities across the United States this weekend with a goal of serving 25,000 people.

While the annual event is held by Islamic Relief during the period when Muslims are fasting for Ramadan, Jane Aslam, a volunteer and Muslim, said Saturday’s event drew volunteers from all faiths and benefited people of all faiths.

Aslam, a school administrator from Gonzales, said Muslims are more focused on giving, sharing and contributing to charity during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. She added she was in the hot BREC gym Saturday not just for her faith, but to serve her community.

It’s a community that Vaughan has called his own in the two years since Katrina.

While he keeps an office in Baton Rouge, Vaughan is often in New Orleans — Humanitarian Day willtake place there today — and other areas in the Gulf South.

He came to Louisiana to lend assistance in the short term, Vaughan said, but decided to stay to work as part of the long-term solution.

“It was crucial for me to stay here,” Vaughan said, “because the need was so huge.

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