Local Muslims, Catholics package meals

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"Just as it is a part of your faith, it's a part of our faith to make sure we care for our neighbors," said Ahsen Abbasi, a local Muslim. "If we have a full stomach when we go to sleep at night, we can ensure others have a full stomach when they go to bed."

Abbasi brought his son, Amaad, 9, to the Stop Hunger Now meal-packaging event at Christ the Redeemer Church in Sterling March 7. Together they refilled the food bins along the meal-packaging assembly line.

Around four dozen Muslims from the ADAMS Center (All Dulles Area Muslim Society) joined more than 130 Catholics from the Sterling parish and community to pack 35,000 meals in less than two hours.

In the first joint project with the local Muslim community, Atonement Father Patrick Cogan, pastor of Christ the Redeemer, said he hoped it is "the beginning of other collaborative efforts."

The ADAMS Center contributed money toward the $10,000 required to host a meal-packaging event, as well as the volunteers.

Ehsan Baig oversaw the volunteers, four of whom he brought with him: his children, including his son Ahmad, 7.

Ahmad had his arms full, literally, as a runner taking the finished meal packets from the sealing table to the packaging table.

Stop Hunger Now International Program Manager Kate Millman oversaw the day's project with a patient, instructive tone, a mic and a large gong, rung when every 1,000 meals were packed. Adrienne Miller, parish social justice ministry chairman, worked with a team of volunteers to ensure the day went smoothly. Hair nets, plastic gloves and detailed instructions ensured a clean environment and a perfectly timed assembly process.

Separate bins of rice, soy and dehydrated vegetables were scooped into funnels channeled into zippered plastic bags; powdered vitamin supplement packets and seasoning were added; then the bags were off to the scales where spoonfuls of rice were added to get the required weight. The bags were sealed and the runners took them to the packing station where they were placed on a grid and then stacked in waiting boxes.

Just two hours later, 35,000 meals were packed, boxes stacked on pallets and shrink-wrapped as single units awaiting their transport.

Fundraising

"This is a very big event for us," said Father Cogan. The fairly new parish social justice committee worked on it over the past year.

Advance fundraising included the distribution of about 500 water bottles, donated from a company going out of business. Stop Hunger Now labels covered the old logos, and the bottles were sent home with parishioners to collect loose change. Miller said thousands of dollars were raised within one month.

Some of the funds were used to buy eight water filtration systems at $100 each to accompany the food shipments, or for disaster response and emergency relief.

The parish fell a couple thousand dollars short of the cost to host the event, but Father Cogan hopes its participation in a five-car multiparish raffle and other social outreach programs will help raise more funds.

"People were very generous to make this happen," he said.

"We raised an awful lot of money for this in a very short amount of time," Miller said. Next year, she said, the plan is to have a second collection to help fund it.

Volunteers

Kevin Rogers, a longtime Christ the Redeemer parishioner, and Matt Hartford, a sophomore at Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington, unpacked key ingredients to refill bins on the tables.

"It's a way to give back; it's the least we can do," Rogers said, adding that he brought his wife and two daughters.

For Hartford, he hoped to earn a few of his required service hours, while calling the event "something fun to do."

The fruit of his labors, and that of the other volunteers, will go to vulnerable students in parishes with programs such as school meal programs to ensure people are getting an education with a meal, to health clinics, adult and vocational training programs, and people in crisis situations. Catholic Relief Services is one of the partner groups.

"It's not just one meal," Millman said. The goal is that people in the 65 countries that receive the meal packets won't need them for very long.

Junaid Shahid and Aliou Sylla heaved the heavy bags of rice up to top off bins. They said they've been on a volunteering streak for the past eight weeks working on Saturday mornings with area charities, including Reston Interfaith and the International Interfaith Peace Corps.

Miller said working with the ADAMS Center was "a natural partnership."

"They work very hard to provide a positive image of Islam and the people who practice the Muslim faith," she said. "We've had some dialogues with them, and they've sponsored dialogues that included the Jewish congregations, to show how much we have in common.

"I'm absolutely thrilled with the results," Miller said. "I knew it was going to be a wonderful event, because I have participated in this with other churches. It exceeded my wildest dreams. My feet didn't touch the ground on my way out of the church."

Find out more

Go to StopHungerNow.org or call 1-919-839-0689.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015

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