Elmont residents collect, donate nearly 300 bottles for baby food

Donations from family, friends across U.S. went to pantry, heading to Nassau shelters


Just before the distribution of baby formula dried up late last Monday at the Masjid Hamza Islamic Center mosque in Valley Stream, a man rushed in and was overjoyed when he learned the center had enough to feed his child.

“He almost teared up,” said Sheharyar Ali, who with his brother, Hamza Akram, both Elmont residents, collected bottles of baby formula that was then distributed at the mosque’s food pantry.

Ali and Akram collected 260 baby formula bottles in a week and donated them to the Valley Stream mosque, as well as to 11 Nassau County shelters that primarily serve infants.

“The demand is very high, but it’s impossible to find formula, and we made it happen,” Ali said of the nationwide baby formula shortage that he and his brother are working to counter in Nassau County.

Call to action

Ali and Akram were inspired to help children and families in need of baby formula by both reports of the nationwide shortage as well as personal experiences.

Akram, who co-founded Toys4Eid, which collects and distributes toys to local children during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, said he realized the demand for baby formula when speaking with those who attended a recent Toys4Eid event at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow.

“We decided to do more than just toys,” Akram said.
Ali, who has two sons, one who is two and a half years old and the other two months old, was personally affected by the crisis.

He said his wife, Hina Ghani, expressed alarm about the baby formula shortage. “If I can’t feed my son, there isn’t even formula. How am I going to feed my son?” Ali recalled his wife saying.

This upset Ali, who joined his brother in helping to solve the problem.

The South Asian American Small Business Association, of which Ali and Akram are members, as well as members of Toys4Eid raised donations internally and from others.

The brothers only expected to find 30 to 40 bottles from across Nassau County. “I was hoping to maybe help some people out,” Ali said. But a week later, the brothers collected nearly 300 baby formula bottles.

“The response was so overwhelming,” said Ali, who has lived in Elmont since 1996 and graduated from Sewanhaka High School in 2010.

The formula came from all over the country, including New Jersey, North Carolina and Florida.

Ali and Akram sought donations by posting flyers online to the social media accounts of Toys4Eid, making announcements at the Valley Stream mosque and reaching out to friends living across the country.

One friend who attended Sewanhaka High School with Ali and now lives in North Carolina shipped three full boxes of baby formula. Family friends from Florida and New Jersey also chipped in by sending formula bottles, and the brothers coordinated with family members who bought bottles at a Costco in New Jersey.

“Me and my brother drove all over Nassau and Suffolk counties … trying to gather as much as we can,” Ali said. “I knew there was an urgent need and we couldn’t just sit around and wait.”

Ali, deputy county attorney at the office of the Nassau County Attorney, said the experience has been both rewarding and stressful. He added that although he is happy to help others, he is frustrated that there is a baby formula shortage.

“We live in a country like America and then we have a problem like this where babies can’t even be fed. That’s just not a situation you would expect in America,” Ali said.

More help available

The original plan was to solely aid the Valley Stream mosque, but once Ali saw the overwhelming response, he contacted county agencies to see where else formula could be shipped.

“We need to help as many people as we can,” Ali said.

The shelters are set to receive shipments of formula soon through a partnership between Ali and Akram and the Nassau County Office of Asian American Affairs and the Nassau County Department of Social Services.

Ali said some formula is still available for those in need, although the pantry’s supply is already running low, as the bulk of the formula collected was destined for the shelters.

The mosque pantry, at 202 Stuart Ave. in Valley Stream, is open to the public every Monday.

Although the brothers have a limited supply of baby formula left, Ali said individuals in need could contact him directly at (516) 734-1354.