How can you sleep well when someone in your neighborhood is hungry, wonders Saba A. Rashid?
“Every day I wake up asking what I can do for someone,” says Rashid, an attorney and the president of the Montgomery County Muslim Foundation (MCMF). “This is the purpose I believe everyone has. We are here to help human beings and make a difference in this world.”
MCMF, which has 400 members, has been working tirelessly since April to assist neighbors affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic shutdown. The mostly volunteer-run nonprofit organization is donating groceries and food baskets to families and seniors facing food insecurity, sewing face masks for local hospitals and raising money to support frontline healthcare workers.
As of mid-May, MCMF has distributed 1,000 food baskets to individuals impacted by coronavirus as well as 300 food boxes to Green Castle Elementary School in Burtonsville and to Difference Makers, a community service group at Takoma Park Middle School. The nonprofit even launched its own Healthcare Worker Appreciation Week in May, serving more than 80 sandwiches to nurses and doctors at Holy Cross Hospital and Adventist Hospital in Silver Spring and donating 50 hand-stitched face masks to Holy Cross.
But MCMF has been engaged in charitable work long before the pandemic started. In fact, Interfaith Works was planning to honor MCMF with the 2020 Community Partner of the Year award at its annual Caring Breakfast before the late March event was postponed due to coronavirus.
“We both serve people who are in poverty in the county,” says Shane Rock, chief executive offer of Interfaith Works. “We have common neighbors that we’re serving together in providing clothing, food, shelter, referral to job readiness training, those sorts of things.”
Among the many ways that MCMF supports Interfaith Works is by serving three meals a day for four weeks to the 70 women staying at the Interfaith Works Women’s Center. That’s 5,880 meals each year.
“Every meal that’s served to the women who live temporarily at the emergency shelter is provided by the community. And MCMF has provided more meals than anybody else,” says Rock. “They’ve gone very much above and beyond in helping us.”
ICYMI: Another nonprofit organization helping individuals facing food insecurity is Nourish Now.
MCMF was founded in 2009 by Tufail Ahmad, although many of its members have been engaged in community service since 2002.
“The Muslim community in Montgomery [County] organized themselves after 9/11,” says Ahmad. “They realized they were under a lot of pressure. They used to be [closed in], but in the American community, we explained, you cannot shy away.”
Ahmad began coordinating charitable food drives after the September 11 attacks, encouraging Muslim Americans who felt uncertain about their place in the community to volunteer in the true spirit of Islam. A few years later, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett suggested that Ahmad form a non-profit organization so that his grassroots efforts could be funded by the county. Ahmad hired a part-time employee, bought a small office, and in 2009, MCMF was officially a non-profit 501(c)(3).
Guided by its vision to “create a hunger-free and hate-free society,” MCMF runs its own food pantry for low-income residents, coordinates an annual food drive with community partners Manna Food and local Giant supermarkets and participates in the county’s Holiday Giving Project, among other charitable projects.
Another large initiative is MCMF’s refugee rehabilitation program, which provides food, clothing and household goods to refugees from countries like Afghanistan and Syria. MCMF has even provided 40 refurbished minivans purchased at auction in Virginia to refugees who need transportation to seek employment and has helped many of them secure work.
“We usually try to hire them in our own office initially and try to train them on the job and try to encourage them to find something even better,” says Rashid. Recently, MCMF hired a woman who lost her job as a seamstress at a dry cleaner in D.C., providing her with a sewing machine and all the supplies she needs to make face masks for frontline healthcare workers.
Next on MCMF’s agenda is a youth program that provides scholarships and mentoring to children of refugee families, although Rashid would like to see it expand across the county.
“This is also an issue with low-income families when the kids are young and they’re growing up. Schools can only do so much,” says Rashid, who is also interested in mentoring parents so they can learn how to help their children succeed.
“I think maybe together we can all make a difference. This is in line with what I want, to help everyone regardless of religion. This is the real message of Islam: to work with everyone,” she says.
Montgomery County Muslim Foundation will be offering free grocery distribution on Sunday, November 15, from noon to 5 p.m. at 811 Russell Avenue in Gaithersburg. Food boxes are available for 300 families. Click here to register.
—Carolyn Conte contributed reporting.
A version of this story originally appeared in the June-July 2020 issue of Montgomery Magazine.