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A reason to give thanks

Masjid Hamza food pantry expands services for Thanksgiving


Since its unveiling in August, the food pantry at Masjid Hamza, in Valley Stream, has opened once a week, on Mondays, providing vital aid to families and individuals affected financially by the coronavirus pandemic. And with the need increasing, volunteers took Thanksgiving as an occasion to expand the pantry’s services.

“Every Monday the number of families getting food is growing more and more, as the pandemic continues to have a financial impact on people, and I wanted to give back even more during this past week to allow for people to be covered and happy on the holiday,” said Ruhee Kapadia, of Valley Stream, the mosque’s outreach coordinator. “We thought about the fact that there might be an extra-special need for food donations this Thanksgiving, and we were right. We ended up having dozens more people than usual call outside of the Monday hours this past week, because they needed donations for Thanksgiving.”  

Normally, Kapadia said, the pantry feeds about 120 families a week. In the days before Thanksgiving, however, with pickup hours expanded beyond Monday, it fed 200 families with 5,300 pounds of food. It also provided toiletries and clothes.

Kapadia said that giving to the food insecure has long been a part of her daily routine. An immigrant who arrived in the United States in 2001 from Bombay, India, she grew up in a middle-class family, and her father often gave to the poor, which inspired her to do the same. Additionally, as a teacher, and mother of four children, Kapadia said she “knows firsthand how hard it can be to have to provide for those she loves with all her heart.” 

“I always get tears of joy and it makes me smile when I give to others,” she said. “I also enjoy seeing people smile back when I help them and to know that in that moment they are probably thinking, ‘It’s going to be OK’; [that] makes me so happy,” Kapadia said. “Last week, I was also really happy to see so many different people that came together from the community regardless of our differences to build up others through these donations.”

Since the pantry opened, she and others said food donations have expanded beyond the local Muslim community.

“I really love the fact that everyone can get something from the pantry and that it’s not just for Muslim people, because it really brings the community together,” said Matthew Khan, of Valley Stream, a longtime mosque congregant. “I hope to start giving donations to the Masjid Hamza food pantry soon because the Islamic faith is built on five pillars, and charity is one of them. It’s mandatory.”

“I’m Catholic, and it made me happy that it didn’t matter what religion I am. I was still welcomed into the Masjid Hamza to help out,” said Valley Streamer and village Sanitation Department worker Kevin Aburto, who was among those who organized donations to the pantry before Thanksgiving. “I also like the fact that people who come to receive donations aren’t judged based on their skin color or religion, because no matter who you are, if you are hungry and knock on the Masjid Hamza’s door, they will help you out.” 

Others at the Sanitation Department pitched in as well.

“Some people aren’t that fortunate, so if we can give a helping hand, we will do it,” Department Supervisor Dominick Milillo said. “Those who are less fortunate deserve to have a good holiday, at any time, not just during the pandemic. Giving back is symbolic, given the very unprecedented times we are in. It gives people hope.”