Sometimes, I sit in the warehouse, all alone, and glance around in admiration and sincere appreciation at the dozens of bags/boxes of donations for Syrian refugees given by our Islamic community. Now and then friends from the Mormon Church drop off donations too. Our bond with the local Mormon Church is strong and their outstretched hand is welcomed. I volunteer weekly for the Arizona Chapter of Helping Hand for Relief and Development, a world-wide Islamic charitable organization that helps with relief and aid projects in Third World nations. Lately, a focus has been to assist refugees in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. Here in the Arizona office we collect used clothing, new and used school supplies, as well as non-perishable food such as rice, beans, sugar and cooking oil. The donations are sorted, packed and readied for shipment overseas. Of course, I enjoy company when other volunteers are in the office. It’s always nice to have company to talk to. During my shift, at least one person and/or family walks through the front door with donations. Maybe it’s just one bag or it could be a whole car load from a mosque from across the city. Men or women may leave a cash donation or offer to spread the word about us among their friends. Muslims and non-Muslims care deeply about the Syrian refugee crisis. Ending the war would be the most viable solution but we, as ordinary citizens, cannot stop the endless carnage and bloodshed. At times, I cannot drag myself out of a hopeless spiral of despair because of Syria as well as other war zones like Iraq, Afghanistan and too many places to name. I am fed up and disgusted by our own government. I see them as nothing but war mongers hell bent on destruction including of our own beloved country. Some days I just hate getting out of bed but I must because my dog has to be walked. Volunteering for Helping Hand keeps my spirit alive. The pure goodness I see every week lifts me higher and higher, way above the garbage scattered about by war, Donald Trump, and others who believe hate has a place in the world. It does not and never well. The power of love and goodness must prevail and we who believe must not let that dream ever die.
Once a month, I volunteer for the American Muslim Women’s Association of Arizona (AMWA) and help serve a hot meal to homeless adults at a church. Around 6:15 p.m. the group of 25 men and women arrives, often in tattered clothing. They carry backpacks loaded with their belongings, perhaps a change of clothes, toiletries or vital documents. From the weary looks on their faces, I can tell they’re tired and hungry. A few are veterans. Some are nursing injuries with casts on arms or legs. Now and then, a homeless person arrives with a dog. If the dog is friendly, it can stay. When a person becomes homeless, their pet may be a source of comfort. Leaving a pet behind can be traumatic. Many homeless people spend all day on the streets while a few worked all day. Yes, some homeless people have jobs but their minimum wage income isn’t enough to pay for a market rate apartment. The few subsidized apartments available are reserved for families, elderly and disabled. Little is available for the working single poor. Once the group settles in, a line forms at the food table, usually cooked by my friend Nagia. Ladies always go first. Before digging in we start with a prayer. Sometimes it’s a Christian prayer; other times it’s Islamic. Volunteers serve generous helpings to appreciative guests. I am privileged to be a part of the volunteer effort. Not only is it a personal reward, but it is a declaration of my Islamic faith to serve others. Once the group is seated, we volunteers join them at the table. We do not eat because the food is reserved for them. Rather, we just talk and learn about their lives. These men and women are not deadbeats. Some lost apartments because of unemployment and their money ran out. Women fled violent relationships. Veterans often return from war zones with mental health issues and have trouble finding employment as well as medical assistance from the VA. Other people lost jobs because their cars were no longer operable. In a few cases, they made bad personal choices. No one is allowed to stay if they are active drug or alcohol users.
A group of Christian churches in Chandler take turns offering refuge to single adults. Families have more options not available to singles. As long as I can, I will continue to serve at the monthly meal program. I was homeless once but I was younger and had options that I don’t have now as a disabled senior. How do I know that Congress won’t strip housing subsidies away from the neediest? Millions of people like me will be affected. The free market won’t step in as the Republicans think will happen.