Al-Huda School and Islamic Relief USA host food and clothing drive
By Braden Hamelin and Lauren Reeder
A line of cars stretched along the street outside the Al-Huda School in College Park’s Hollywood neighborhood on April 2 for a food and clothing drive, one of a series hosted by the school and Islamic Relief USA each year. The drives are open to all and aim to serve a broad community regardless of ethnicity or religious beliefs.
“This food distribution was for the entire community, College Park and surrounding areas, and this is why you saw 90 minutes of non-stop traffic,” said Azad Mohammed, one of the organizers.
Staff and volunteers assembled 300 food boxes for the drive, with each box topped off with nonperishable basics meant to last a family of five for about a month. That boost can be vital for struggling families, according to Kesha Abdul-Mateen, program coordinator with Islamic Relief Mid-Atlantic.
“They know that they have items that they can stock their pantry with so that they can use the funds they might have left over for meat for other things, maybe to take care of that light bill, to take care of, you know … purchasing halal or meat at the grocery store,” she said.
According to Abdul-Mateen, this particular drive served a special purpose.
“Ramadan is our big, big program. Our goal was to focus on food insecurity for families experiencing poverty during Ramadan as well as all types of families regardless of race, religion or gender,” she said.
Mohammed, a Beltsville resident, hosted an informal give-away about eight years ago to serve the area’s growing refugee population. His generosity, along with a lot of hard work, evolved over time to become the series now hosted by the school.
“It all started in our garage. We used to collect clothing and things and distribute it to the needy,” Mohammed said. He launched the project largely in response to the war in Syria, which forced many refugees to emigrate to the U.S. “We would host furniture, then everything else in our garage, and then it sort of branched out because it became such a huge influx of refugees,” he added.
The Al-Huda School had an active soup kitchen at that time, and school officials and Mohammed joined forces to address needs in the surrounding community. Mohammed even has an office at the school.
The fall of Afghanistan, in August 2021, prompted an influx of refugees to College Park. Mohammed and school officials stepped up, securing grants so they could expand their services. As the COVID-19 pandemic increased needs throughout the community, they partnered with Islamic Relief USA to tap into more resources.
Abdul-Mateen underscored that community support has been essential for refugees who came to the area following the collapse of the Afghan government.
“We are making an impact in the Greenbelt area. We’re helping people who are experiencing food insecurity or who are stuck in a kind of immigration limbo,” Abdul-Mateen said. “Because as you know, newly resettled Afghans don’t have access to benefits like SNAP [or] food stamps until their immigration status has changed.”
Events which bring people together, like the food drive, can help build a sense of community — neighbors helping neighbors. Some people pick up multiple boxes or get in line more than once so they can stock up and share with friends or neighbors. This kind of generosity offers not just tangible necessities but essential connections for people struggling with issues like poverty and food insecurity or the challenges of establishing themselves after immigrating.
“There’s a lot of people in line supporting others who didn’t have a car. … they usually work together as a community,” Abdul-Matten said. “So if one person has a van, you know, they’ll try to pick up for more than one family to make sure that no one is without.”
Mohammed seconded that the drives create community. He has seen Afghan refugees who once needed help become engaged in the community, even stepping up to serve as donors who are able and eager to give back to the program.
“I think this is how society grows. To give back and help others as well. Each one, teach one; each one, help one,” Mohammed said.
Organizers will be hosting their next drive at Al-Huda School in July. To learn more about the school, go to alhudaschoolmd.org, and for more information about Islamic Relief USA, go to irusa.org.