Islamic food banks stock up during Ramadan


During Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that emphasizes giving, groups across South Florida ramp up their efforts to help the needy by distributing food.

Special to the Miami Herald

Making ends meet can be hard for a single mother.

But luckily for Yasmin Khan, a single mother of two, she has help.

For the past three years she has been getting a food basket every month from the South Florida chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America USA Relief’s hunger prevention program. She says the baskets of food — filled with rice, meats, cereal, cooking oils and other staples — give her peace of mind that her children will get a proper meal.

“I know I’ll have the basic items, I know my children won’t starve,” said Khan, of Miramar. “As a mom it’s about providing for your children.”

The South Florida chapter of the Islamic Circle is one of 18 branches nationally. It distributes food throughout Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, as does the Islamic Foundation of South Florida. Both groups ramp up efforts during Ramadan, which begins at sunset Friday and involves fasting from sunrise to sunset.

A family who receives food from one of the two groups typically gets one box a month. However, during Ramadan the food banks will distribute three boxes: one box before the holy month begins, one in the middle of the month, and one at the end. The South Florida chapter of the Islamic Circle serves 200-plus families a month, while the Islamic Foundation serves about 100 families. Both groups will distribute food to dozens more during Ramadan.

Ramadan is a month-long period in which Muslims reconnect spiritually. In addition to fasting, they refrain from thinking negative thoughts, pray and focus on ways to do good. The food distributions buttress the faith’s emphasis on charitable giving, particularly during Ramadan.

“It’s like a boot camp. It reinforces those things: the giving to charity, the fasting, the prayer,” said Abdur Rahman, events coordinator at the Islamic Foundation. “It’s getting your mental state in sync with your spirit. We have to set an example for all of humanity.”

Although Ramadan involves daily fasting, it also calls for a nightly breaking of the fast, when friends and family get together to pray and celebrate at a meal called iftar. As part of this, Muslims traditionally will eat dates and drink a sweet drink such as Rooh Afza, which consists of a concentrated syrup that is commonly mixed with milk. They also will eat fruit, drink tea and typically eat rice with meats or stews after they pray the sunset prayer, known as the Maghrib. Many of these items are included in the food baskets.

“You are providing someone with what they need when they are breaking a fast. It’s a gift from God to be that middle person,” said Abdurauf Khan, director of hunger prevention for ICNA Relief USA. “We do this every weekend, regardless of Ramadan.”

The group generally provides food baskets for 200-plus families a month, and serves meals to more than 200 people a week as part of their meal distribution program.

Typically, food baskets from both ICNA Relief USA and IFSF contain items such as rice, cooking oil, canned vegetables and halal meats, meaning the animals were slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law. During Ramadan the baskets also contain special foods.

“Ramadan boxes are special from what they do every month because you get one in the beginning, one in the middle and one in the end of the month,” Yasmin Khan said. “They have special things you would need to break a fast like dates, extra sweets and extra grocery items.”

Yasmin Khan usually gives away the excess food she gets during Ramadan to those who might need it. “I not only receive but I share with my neighbors as well,” she said.

Packing up all the boxes can be quite complex. For the Islamic Foundation, it took 75 volunteers to complete their first batch of Ramadan food baskets, said Kauser Haroon, a volunteer who coordinates the packaging. The group packed 105 boxes, which were distributed on June 15. They plan to distribute about 340 boxes during Ramadan.

Currently, two classrooms and an assembly room/cafeteria in the Salah Tawfik Elementary and Middle School hold the stored food. As of Wednesday, the organization was preparing to pack its second batch of boxes, which go out on July 6. Both groups work with local mosques, which help distribute the food.

Those who receive the boxes say they appreciate the efforts of the organizations and their volunteers.

“I am divorced and I am a single mother, and it comes at a great help,” said Gina Suarez, 39, of Sunny Isles Beach, who receives boxes from ICNA Relief USA. “Food is a basic need, and when you have children even more.”

The boxes contain enough food to last from a few weeks to more than a month.

“It came at a time when I had no food. It contained rice, flour, oil, salt, cereal and everything and a package of meat along with that box,” said Asiya, 40, of Miami, who received a box from ICNA Relief USA. “That food lasted for three weeks. It helped me and my family from starving.”

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