The gymnasium in the Five Towns Community Center in Lawrence was filled with people, tables were covered with blankets, winter coats, sweaters, gloves, socks, canned food and cooking oil, and volunteers from the Islamic Council of North America Relief Long Island chapter helped distribute the items at the Thanksgiving Giveaway.
Two days after the holiday, the event was also supported by County Legislator Carrié Solages, who represents Inwood, and sponsored by several Islamic groups and institutions — Crescent High School, Darul Quran, Hamza Academy, Islamic Center of Long Island, Long Island Muslim Society, Masjid Bilal, Masjid Hamza, MDQ Academy and Young Muslims.
Founded 40 years ago, Jamaica, New York-based ICNA Relief has evolved from educating its membership about Islam to an organization that responds to emergencies and natural disasters similar to the American Red Cross and other nongovernmental agencies.
“No. 1, we are a Muslim charity organization that provides a variety of services and wants to be the choice of every American,” said Shahid Farooqi, the Long Island chapter’s director of expansion. The chapter is based in New Hyde Park. “We want to help everyone,” he added.
There are 27 ICNA-run food pantries nationwide, including five in New York City and 17 shelter homes in the United States. On the last Sunday of every month, Long Island chapter volunteers distribute meals at the Hempstead bus terminal. Individual donations and matching grants/contracts supports the national organization that offers seven major programs: women’s transitional house, disaster relief and refugee services, hunger prevention, free health clinic, Back 2 School Giveaway and Muslin family services.
Farooqi said that ICNA Relief has responded to 53 disasters since 9/11 in 2001, and its various chapters have been deployed to many sites, including where tornadoes and cyclones have struck and the recent California wildfires.
“We were in the south after a tornado and a man asked ‘Why are you here? We don’t want you here,’” Farooqi, said, in recalling one of many similar encounters where Muslims initially receive an unpleasant welcome. “Our volunteer said, ‘I’m here to help you, may we come in?’ He said no, but his wife said yes.”
Noting that the Muslim community in Pittsburgh raised more than $100,000 to aid the victims of the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue mass shooting on Oct. 27, Solages said: “We have more in common than we are different. Examples of that generosity are not uncommon,” adding that charity is one of the five pillars of Islam. He contributed to the giveaway by having pens and notebooks for the children.
Longtime Community Center board member Pete Sobol, who is serving as the interim executive director, highlighted his appreciation for the work of all the board members, who helped the ICNA volunteers set up the giveaway. “They don’t get paid for what they do, but they never stop doing what they do,” he said. “I don’t run the community center, the community runs the community center.”