Food pantry by Humanity First Willingboro

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Daoud Chattha, Humanity First Disaster Relief Team

Humanity First Willingboro is known for their monthly food pantry, which has now been running steadily for 10 years. Despite difficult times, they are still striving to serve humanity as much as they can. I had the opportunity to speak with Waqas Asghar Sahib, former Regional Qaid for East Region and a volunteer himself, and interviewed him on the pantry’s origins and their distribution on 18 April 2020.

Waqas Asghar Sahib said:

Alhamdolillah, we started this food pantry about 10 years ago. There were a few notable pioneers who should be credited with the starting of our work. Back then, I was serving as the Regional Qaid, under the banner of Majlis Khuddam-ul-Ahmadiyya. The idea came from Suleman Sheikh Sahib, who shared the idea with me. I asked Osman Kwabena, who went to the food bank of South Jersey to register our food pantry. Aft er fulfilling their basic requirements, they came to our mosque to off er basic training and conduct inspections before registering us under their food bank. We were then approved under state level.

“After running successfully for 6 to 7 months, the Willingboro food pantry got promoted to the federal program. With the federal program, the cost of the goods was much cheaper, some being free, and the food would be immediately delivered to the mosque. We were approved for perishable food as well, such as un-canned fruits.

“Six to seven years ago, Humanity First took over the pantry and spent money for a fridge, freezer, racks, and more supplies. Through their investment, the pantry got much more popularity and increased success.

“A few volunteers were key in the beginning for our success. These included Suleman Sheikh Sahib and his wife, Surriaya Suleman Sahiba, who came up with the initial idea. Also, Bilal Malik Sahib was Qaid Majlis at the time and Sharaz Sayed Sahib was another important volunteer. Most notably, Tahir Sayed Sahib and Jameela Sayed Sahiba are an old couple who have been with the pantry since the start. They are the backbone of the pantry and continue to support us up to this day. In-charge now is Munawar Saqib Sahib. I am a volunteer myself.

“Initially when we started, we distributed work with the 3 auxiliaries of the Jamaat. Khuddam were responsible for picking up the food and setting up. Lajna distributed the food on the day of the pantry and did the required paperwork. Ansar would be supporting financially.

“Now, we hold the pantry once a month, on every third Saturday. The procedure is as follows:

“We place the order online two weeks before the pantry. The Wednesday before the pantry the delivery comes. This time, on 18 April 2020, we had 5,000 pounds of food. Volunteers then come to gather everything, put it inside the mosque, and arrange the food in freezers, racks, etc. They manage the inventory as well. This time, because of the extra demand, we requested additional items, which was approved but we had to pick up the extra 2,700 pounds ourselves. On the afternoon of Friday, 17 April, we started packaging. There were 25 volunteers who put three hours each to prepare 100 packs of canned fruits, vegetables, etc. We gave five bags to each family – one with eggs, one with fruits and vegetables, one with toilet paper and other supplies, one with rice and more food and the last included frozen butter, cheese and chicken. We prepared half of it Friday evening and the frozen food we started at 9am on Saturday, 18 April. 32 volunteers came on Saturday. We started distribution at 11am, but people started lining up at 9am and by 11am, there were about 60 cars. We continued distribution until 3pm. We gave food to 90 families, amounting to almost 7,000 pounds of food. To wrap up for the day, we broke all the boxes and loaded them onto a truck for recycling and cleaned the premises. Lunch was served to all the volunteers.

“One thing we had to deal with was the extra demand. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we had 90 families – usually we have around 40-45. We also gave them more food than we usually give them. Additionally, all the volunteers were keeping distance, wearing masks and gloves. Usually the families pick up food themselves. This time however, to avoid any interaction, the families stayed in the car while we delivered directly to them, putting it in the trunk, etc. That also made a lot of extra work for us.

“Additionally, on 21 April 2020, Humanity First Willingboro had another food pantry where they distributed 19,000 pounds of food. In total, from 21 March to 21 April, they had five food pantries and served over 50,000 pounds of food. May God bless them for their work. Amin

To learn more about these projects and how you can become part of it or contribute in humanitarian work, visit us at http://usa.humanityfirst.org

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