Repair the World recently launched our High Holiday campaign, focused on advancing racial justice and building relationships between communities. There are many different ways to get involved (Learn about the root causes of racial injustice in America. Host or attend a Turn the Tables dinner. Take action in solidarity with our neighbors as a multiracial Jewish community.) – and we encourage you to explore them all.
Meanwhile, we will be introducing you to some of our favorite change makers. Here’s Zamir Hassan, founder of Muslims Against Hunger. As a network of more than 20 volunteer communities across the country, the organization is making a real impact on food justice front. Read on to find out more…
What was your inspiration behind starting Muslims Against Hunger?
I grew up in Pakistan and came to graduate school in America in 1973. In 2000, I ended up going to a soup kitchen for the first time as a chaperone for my son’s school in New Jersey. I was shocked. There were people who were homeless living in my community, and I had no idea that they were there. I was ignorant. The Muslim liturgy says I am not supposed to go to bed if my neighbor is hungry. I started reflecting on that, and it motivated me to get engaged with the hunger issue.
I started with my congregation and neighborhood, organizing volunteers to go to soup kitchens and it became a passion of mine. Overtime, we expanded to other congregations and started a website. People wanted to bring the program to their communities so I created a training kit and started traveling over the weekends to help get people started. That is how the program was born. Within a couple of years, we were in 20 different cities. We basically follow a franchise model. Wherever people are interested in starting a program, we help them.
How else has the program grown since its founding?
As I began working with different soup kitchens, I realized that there were people who were hanging out at the train station, living in the woods, or concentrated in different parts of the city that we were not reaching. So I came up with the idea of a mobile soup kitchen. In 2011, we launched the Hunger Van with the help of a group of Muslim and Jewish students from Rutgers. People can go on the website and invite the Hunger Van to visit their community. It brings everything needed to make meals, and the host groups provides table space and 6 volunteers. We have multiple vans – one in Chicago that covers that region, and three vans on the East Coast that cover from Main down to Washington DC. We also just launched the One World Community Cafe, the first-ever kosher, halal, and vegan soup kitchen.
Can you share a story that demonstrates the impact Muslims Against Hunger has had?
When you are feeding people, you are making an immediate impact on their lives every day. When the Hunger Van first started in 2011, I went with some students from Rutgers to the same place for two days in a row. On the second day, a man came up to me that had been there the day before. He said, “Thank you very much. This is the first meal I’m eating since you gave me the meal yesterday.” Last year we served almost 300,000 meals around the country. So from the food perspective, you can really feel the impact.
What role should religious faiths play in the work of food justice?
I feel that at a grassroots level, our society is not engaged enough in these issues and my mission is to get people involved. And if you look at every faith, each one talks about our obligation to helping other people. For Muslims, charity is part of our daily worship. But even if you’re not a faithful person, it is part of your civic obligation to help. We cannot rely on the government alone to do this work. I firmly believe that we must be a part of the hunger solution.