“If you’re rich – you will eat when you want, and if you’re poor – you will eat when you can.” —Arabic proverb
October 26, 2014 – Columbia University, located at Morningside Heights at 116th Street and Broadway, is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York and the nation’s fifth oldest. Older than this reputed Ivy league institution is the practice of giving charity, which is also the Third Pillar of Islam, or Zakat, making it mandatory for Muslims to donate a tithe of their income to the needy people of the community so as to encourage the afflicted toward financial independence and active community participation. This Sunday morning’s Hunger Van turnout of student volunteers looked, in accordance with either coincidence or fate, old-school also; everyone was awake before eleven AM, eager to dive into the activity, and conservatively dressed.
Danial Saleem of the Muslim Student Association, or MSA, the student organizer of today’s event and first member of the University group to arrive, greeted both Zamir Hassan and the blogger in his company with a strong and friendly handshake, followed by a tall, young chemical engineering major, both of whom talk with Zamir about where the meeting’s going to be held. The group gradually gets bigger, and each person puts his or her best foot forward in carrying a load of Hunger Van boxes to the Lerner Building, through the side doors, and into the elevator for the fourth-floor meeting room where they will eventually be unpacked. It was heavy-lifting: testament to everyone’s being in form and fit for a morning’s work doing charity by assembling bagged packages of vegan supermarket goods.
The room’s ten adults, not counting Zamir Hassan and myself, include: Danial, Aziza, who is French born but has an Algerian background, Sara, Aletta, an exchange student at New School from Frankfurt, Germany, researching socio-economics of Muslim communities, Maimuna, Alaya, and Naimun. Danial introduces Zamir as being the founder of Muslims Against Hunger as well as Hunger Van. Zamir returns that Hunger Van has over 3,000 volunteers nationwide, and that it’s trying to solidify its efforts at Columbia U. which has incidentally stayed with Hunger Van, unlike some other colleges, NYU namely. Zamir attests that more important than the act of doing charitable work is learning about good health, nutrition, and charity, especially during his short speech and question session.
Groceries employed in making the 100 or so meals included: Amy’s vegetarian organic lentil soup cans, bananas, cherry tomatoes, cranberries, granola bars, and various breads, bagels, and rolls. “Granola bars are great,” Mr. Hassan remarked to those assem<a href="https://hungervan.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/img_3096 Discover More.jpg”>bled. “I’m thinking of using them as part of our program.” According to strict regulations, Columbia stipulates there be no food-making, even if it entails only sandwiches. It is around 10 AM, and volunteers use Poly gloves in order to package, since that is all they will be able to do by stipulation. Through the window, there is a lovely view of the front University green and surrounding buildings, which happen to be architecturally quite nice. Three more people walk into the room in the middle of our efforts to help out.
Zamir states, “This is how I run the program around all the North America area. In this country, we don’t have a shortage of food; we throw away a lot of food, though America is the richest country.” Danial Saleem adds that some people are staying for distribution, which will take place at an uptown 168th Street shelter.
Mr. Hassan describes having in 2000 gone as a chaperone to a soup kitchen to feed 200 people, whereas now it’s 350 people a day. “From my tradition as a Muslim I’m not supposed to go to bed if my neighbors are hungry. Salat and zakat are mandatory, and charity must be done at least once a day.”
Danial tells the room of volunteers, “We’re in that position (to be charitable); we have the privilege to lend a helping hand.” His parents and brother from Atlanta, Georgia, also participated in the Hunger Van event until having to leave to catch their flight. Mr. Saleem, the father, is a medical doctor who received his training in Chicago and happens to be from the same city in Pakistan – Karachi, the largest metropolis – as Mr. Hassan. However, they were not previously acquainted.
Zamir Hassan along with a smaller group of student volunteers, all female, except for Mr. Hassan, traveled to the shelter to distribute the packaged meals and were well received.
To see volunteers in action visit link below
About HUNGER VAN
The Hunger Van was born in 2011 because Muslims Against Hunger founder Zamir Hassan, a practicing Muslim and resident of Bedminster, New Jersey decided that if hungry people such as the ones congregating around parks and train stations, could not come to the food, the food would come to them in vans, conveniently packaged and ready to eat. The cost of producing one hot meal is $6.07 and $4.85 for cold ones; and meals as well as events are donation-based. Sponsors are encouraged to raise funds for the feeding event. All of the food is vegan and can last for a long period of time without spoiling. for more information about Hunger Van project click here
The author of this blog, Alice M. Baskous, is a New Jersey resident and Hunter College grad who works in and frequents Manhattan Island where she spends many of her hours studying French, walking around, and writing poetry as well as fiction. She does community service with the homeless as well as hungry locals of Tompkins Square Park in downtown New York City three times a week between 10 AM and 11, and also at other Hunger Van sponsored events.