The holy month of Ramadan is being observed differently this year by the Muslim community in the Rio Grande Valley. With all five local mosques in the region closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, local congregants have had to find other ways to honor the holiday.
“We were hearing that a lot of people in the community are out of work during this time with the pandemic, and so a lot of people are having a hard time getting access to groceries and essential items,” Sofia Kamal, a member of the mosque, said.
To address that need, the Islamic Society of South Texas decided to organize a weekly food drive. Since May 9, the mosque has been the site of where congregants have been handing out boxes of food, including vegetable oil, flour, canned soups and vegetables, along with essential items like toothpaste, soap and toilet paper. Baby formula is also available.
“Right now, we have a large group of people going out to do grocery shopping, then they bring it all into the mosque,” said Kamal. “We also got donations from a bunch of people of different faiths, which is really wonderful.”
On the first day of the drive, Kamal said that a line began to form more than an hour before it was slated to begin. All 200 prepared boxes were given out that day, which Kamal said was a grim achievement.
“It really opened our eyes to the need here in the Valley,” she said. “If somebody is going to be in a line for that long, then it’s obvious they have a need for the groceries.”
The drive runs from 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays at the mosque, located at 200 N. Ware Road in McAllen.
Donations for the drive have been collected through www.launchgood.com/campaign/rgv_food_drive#!/. So far, more than $13,500 has been raised; each box costs around $30.
They are aiming to run the drive for a total of eight weeks, or until funds run out.
Kamal, one of the dozens of coordinators of the drive, emphasized that people of any faith are welcome to pick up a box.
“Anyone of any religion can come, there are no questions asked,” she said. “You can open your trunk and a member will put the box inside: contactless delivery.”
Additionally, he description on the drive’s Launch Good account reads: “Our aim is to tap into every resource available to us, every person coming from every walk of life. Also, many (similar) organizations are currently overwhelmed — we want to share the burden.”
Kamal has been attending the McAllen mosque since she moved to the Valley in 2007. She has spent more than a dozen Ramadans there, and recalls the large celebrations hosted throughout the month-long holiday.
“Normally, it’s a big time for the community,” said Kamal. “We usually have group dinners, group prayers — but we can’t really do any of that right now.”
The mosque is usually busy during Ramadan, but now, the only time its doors open is when one or two families come inside to prepare boxes for the drive.
One of the five pillars of Islam is zakat, which encourages practices of charity. Kamal said though celebrations are looking different this year, the spirit of Ramadan remains strong.
“This is us sharing a part of Ramadan with the community,” Kamal said. “It is an opportunity for us to use our time to do good work.”
She added that the drive has also strengthened relationships of families in the local Muslim community, since youth have also been involved with the drive.
“It has been good for everybody,” she said.