December 12, 2014. The sky is getting colder, and the holidays are approaching, while New Yorkers get their last-minute shopping done; still, there are many hungry folk to whom it’s good to give consideration when skies turn and remain stark slate gray. As it so happens, Tzedakah (charity) is a fundamental part of the Jewish way of life; so, Eli Shapiro of West End Synagogue and vice president of Innovant, a cutting edge office design company, from his eager willingness to give charity by helping the homeless eat, recently donated $2000 to Hunger Van during a holiday party sponsored for the homeless on Long Island, which is a continuation of the complicit cooperation between Hunger Van and West End Synagogue: a family-friendly reconstructionalist congregation on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, New York.
It was a busy day for the many people involved in the production of over 100 meals for homeless people living in NYC, this event taking place in one room, with Hunger Van founder Zamir Hassan lecturing. Mr. Hassan states that so many people are surprised at the total number of hungry people here in the US per annum, which is 49 million. He gives his standard lecture at every Hunger Van event, in which he goes over the definition of hunger: that is, when a person does not know where his next meal is coming from, the total number of hungry people in the US, and the fact that he was raised a Muslim’s motivating him to help humanity through soup kitchens.
“We have so much to be thankful for; we have iPhone 6,” he likes to jokingly remark, insisting that our parents have given us everything. “There are homeless people right in our backyard, in the train stations and under bridges who get nothing to eat. As a Muslim, I cannot go to bed if my neighbor is still hungry.” Zakat is the mandatory fifth pillar of Islam, required for the physical and spiritual purification of a Muslim’s yearly earnings and in order to help those in the community who are more needy than he or she is.
At the Long Island holiday for homeless people, all thanks to the stunning donation procured by Innovant and Eli Shapiro, the meeting tables were soon filled with Honey Bee and Chickaroo salads, the completely vegan Hunger Van standard: a menu created primarily for the benefit of the health of homeless individuals, who often cannot get a truly good meal, but make do on what is cheaper and more fattening. The Hunger Van menu also has the capacity of standing up to time; the food doesn’t spoil so quick, lasting several hours, even outside of a refrigerator. The Honey Bee sandwich is a concoction of slices of whole wheat, filled with a drizzle of honey, banana slices, peanut butter, and a sprinkling of cinnamon; whereas the Chickaroo Salad is comprised of chopped greens, olives, cranberries, sunflower seeds, pineapple chunks, chopped baby carrots, green peas, and avocado oil, all mixed and deposited into 12-ounce Styrofoam containers.
Every volunteer wears gloves for the sake of hygiene; they generally make and then distribute the parcels to people in need according to normal ethics of cleanliness. There were certainly plenty of volunteers working in this room to make things happen: cutting bread, spreading peanut butter, making salad, working together! Mr. Hassan emphasizes, it is not the food that gets produced, that is the main element of Hunger Van, but the phenomenon of cooperation. A common point that’s brought up during speeches, is that humans are created equal; and the homeless man who has no dinner is also part and parcel of Creation made in the image of the Lord, according to many religious perspectives. Incidental to the cooperation of this remarkable Hunger Van event on Long Island and its prodigious turnout, but relative to the religion of many of those volunteering, namely Judaism: Traditional Jews give at least ten percent of their income to charity; and Business Week’s 2006 list of The 50 Most Generous Philanthropists included at least 15 Jews.
To see Innovant volunteers in action click
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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 and 11 AM, and also at other Hunger Van sponsored events.