Feeding the Hungry in the Twin Cities
By Ayisha Yahya.
A quick glance at your grocery bill is evidence that a dollar just doesn’t go as far as it used to – the cost of food is rising. But while some people can still afford to stock up the fridge and pantry, for others, hunger is a persistent problem.
With the ongoing economic crisis showing few signs of abating, the demand for food assistance is mounting. Second Harvest Heartland food bank, which serves the Twin Cities metro, reported a 30 percent increase in demand for emergency food assistance in 2008 with more new first-time users, more repeat visits among existing clients, and more newly unemployed people(1). As more jobs are lost, Feeding America, the national food bank network formerly known as America’s Second harvest, reports that a record number of people are now on food stamps – almost 32 million Americans – and making use of food pantries. Food banks nationwide are struggling to keep up with demand(2).
It is not just the very poor and the unemployed who need supplemental food; many working families face food insecurity because they cannot stretch their income far enough to cover all their rising expenses. Imagine having to choose between buying food and paying for rent or utilities.
Here in the Twin Cities, Building Blocks‘ Food Shelf Program has witnessed first hand the grip of hunger in the community. In a survey we conducted in 2007, 18 percent of the respondents reported not having enough to eat for the whole month(3). Forty one percent said they received food support, and 51 percent knew another family in need of food every month. In Ramadan 2008, we held five special food distributions at different mosques – more than 1,000 families came to get food. In December 2008, 2,000 pounds of meat was distributed to more than 200 needy families after the Eid al Adha celebrations(4).
On a monthly basis, our food shelf feeds only about 60 of the neediest families because of limited resources. Evidently, the need is much greater and we would like to serve more people especially in this uncertain economic climate. This is why we organized a food drive in March, and collected food from 14 different locations (please click here for more details). Alhamdulillah (praise be to God), about 6,000 pounds of food and almost $4,000 was donated. Overall, volunteers spent more than 500 man-hours planning, helping in the collection, and then sorting and creating an inventory of the food. This food will be distributed in these summer months.
It is worth noting that for low-income families that have children who receive free school breakfasts and lunch, food insecurity is even higher in the summer. When school is out for three months, these families have to struggle to provide extra meals. Many food banks report seeing many more children during the summer, according to Feeding America’s “Hunger Fact Sheet”(5). And according to the organization Hunger Solutions Minnesota, more than half of all the hungry are kids(6). Based on our own observations, most of the families in need of emergency assistance are single mothers with children.
No child should have to go hungry if we have the means to help. Every can and box of food makes a difference. Every cent in donations counts too. Tackling hunger here in the Twin Cities requires an outpouring of generosity from those of us who can afford to give.
Islam places great emphasis on feeding the hungry. In a chapter of the Quran called Small Kindness (Surah al Ma’un, 107:1-3) Allah says, “Have you seen the one who denies the Recompense? For that is the one who drives away the orphan. And does not encourage the feeding of the poor.” In another chapter, the “steep path” to righteousness is described as follows: “And what can make you know the path that is steep? It is the freeing of a slave. Or giving food in a day of severe hunger. To an orphan near of kin. Or a Miskin (poor) afflicted with misery” (Quran 90:12-16). And when the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was once asked what qualities in Islam are good, he responded, “To feed the poor and greet those whom you know and those whom you don’t know,” (Reported in Bukhari).
So we urge everyone to give, however much or little that they can, to support the food shelf. Giving will not only alleviate a physical need, but also reassure needy that they are amongst people who share and care. Imagine the comfort you can bring to a child and the relief you can give a struggling family with this small act of kindness.
You can support the food shelf by mailing a check to Building Blocks, 2534 Central Ave. NE Minneapolis MN 55418 (write food shelf in the memo) or donate online at http://www.thebuildingblocks.org/donate-online.html. If you are interested in volunteering, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Apart from Building Blocks, several other Muslim organizations are working to tackle hunger in the community. Islamic Center of Minnesota in Fridley, Masjid Nur in Minneapolis, and Masjid ar Rahman in Bloomington have food shelves and several other mosques are working on starting one. They all need your support.
So please give from your cart . . . and your heart.
Quran 76: 8-9
 Feeding America (2009). Unemployment reaches record levels, food banks struggle to feed hungry Americans. March 6.
 700 people participated in the survey.
 For more information on Building Blocks Food shelf efforts please visit www.thebuildingblocks.org
 Feeding America. Hunger Fact Sheet
 Hunger Solutions Minnesota. Minnesota Hunger Fact Sheet