November 16, 2014. It is 3:10 P.M. at Columbia University which happens to be hosting a large Hunger Van community vent scheduled to last until 5:00 in the evening with a full room of people from different organizations, great and small, attending. There are plenty of volunteers from mixed religions attending. This time, Danial Saleem of MSA Columba U and Will Eastman of FFEU are the organizer for this program.
There are five long tables in the conference room which lies immediately above a rather long and grandiose foyer. Everyone is called to make a big circle where they are told, “We’ll not be making food but assembling it due to school regulations; we have six items we’re going to pack. Eight to ten people can cut the carrots in half. Why? This is not about the food itself; it’s about keeping busy.”
Since the lentil soup was not such a big hit the last time it was employed in Hunger Van runs, there are beans on the table today. The group’s instructed that they are supposed to throw away anything that does not look okay to distribute. All of the healthy snack bags are supposed to be filled, but aside from this, the volunteers today must sort out themselves what they are going to do and where. Danial Salim, President of the Muslim Student Association, from Project Nas, reminds everyone they need gloves for the sake of hygiene. Will Eastman tells everyone at 6:00 P.M. the Jewish Community Center on 76th Street will be giving out free pizza and plenty of other food for a Jewish Muslim solidarity event.
In the room, there seem to be three girls from Kings Bay Young Peace Builders in Brooklyn which is a community center Amity school, and it’s through this youth program these participants learned about the Columbia U. Hunger Van event. From Romemu are Zena and Paul, who are siblings, and Deborah, who has never been to a Hunger Van event before. Romemu is a single entity, they explain, and the Jewish Renewal Synagogue business office is on 105th Street. There’s a Columbia U. journalism student writing for the same event, and she is hurriedly getting around the room with her writing materials. Danial and Menna are both Columbia U. students and part of the MSA and also regular attendees at Hunger Van, whereas Fatima and Habiba, the grand adviser, from the MSA, are not. Habiba says that today’s event is a good way for her to work with her friend, who is another teacher, and spend quality time. Hunger Van is “a nice opportunity for people to engage in a manner that they wouldn’t.
Over 200 meals were made, so people without money this week are going to be blessed, as one person stated. There is one box for breads, and all else is packaged in plastic take out bags, that is, by 4:13 P.M.
It’s only later that Zamir Hassan, founder of Hunger Van, gives his customary speech. He explains that the legal definition of hunger is that a person is hungry if he or she doesn’t know from where the next meal will be coming. In fact, 49 millions people in the US are hungry. Since money was cut from food programs, there are more people on the street looking for food; and they’ll be getting it from us! Morristown is one of the richest towns in NJ with all kinds of famous restaurants, and there are hungry people. Zamir and his son fed 200 homeless people at a Morristown soup kitchen in 2000, which impressed him so much Mr. Hassan started Muslims Against Hunger. NYC is one of the riches cities in the country, and yet the hungry are everywhere. “Watch who you’re voting for, because more cuts are coming,” he says. “Hunger Van’s a grassroots program to which one can donate $6 per meal.”
Paul states about his synagogue, “The last Sunday of every month at the synagogue, we buy the food, make it, and distribute it outside. You’re all together with the same goal and intentions no matter how your day has been. Zamir, thank you so much for bringing this here.”
Will continues, “We met Zamir Hassan at Rutger’s State University first. Shalom Salam brought Muslims and Jews together in 2010. Every year it grows across the world with acts of community service learning about people of other faiths. They were Muslims Against Hunger doing a great job bringing lots of people together.” Will works for The Foundation of Ethnic Understanding With a Focus on Young Leadership.
Danial Salim from Project Nas, says, “It’s been a dynamic, great experience, and it’s our collective duty to get back. Many of us are stuck in the bubble of where our next homework assignment is going to be done or where we’ll get our next coffee. The shelter is only a block away, though, and these people are really in need. Thank you for contributing to this good cause.”
Zamir goes on to say that most of the programs are held in small apartments, and with six volunteers and two hours, there can be 100 meals made. At Rutger’s there’s a good association with Hunger Van; they all go into the street and distribute.
At 5:00 P.M. all is done, and everything will be loaded onto the van which will be parked by Starbucks uptown. The meals take 20 minutes to distribute, and plenty of people will wind up helping with this invaluable process, who will also be included in the essential group photo taken at the end of the Hunger Van event.
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About HUNGER VAN
The Hunger Van was born in 2011 because Muslims Against Hunger founder Zamir Hassan, a practicing Muslim and resident of Bedminster, New Jersey decided that if hungry people such as the ones congregating around parks and train stations, could not come to the food, the food would come to them in vans, conveniently packaged and ready to eat. The cost of producing one hot meal is $6.07 and $4.85 for cold ones; and meals as well as events are donation-based. Sponsors are encouraged to raise funds for the feeding event. All of the food is vegan and can last for a long period of time without spoiling. for more information about Hunger Van project click here
The author of this blog, Alice M. Baskous, is a New Jersey resident and Hunter College grad who works in and frequents Manhattan Island where she spends many of her hours studying French, walking around, and writing poetry as well as fiction. She does community service with the homeless as well as hungry locals of Tompkins Square Park in downtown New York City three times a week between 10 AM and 11, and also at other Hunger Van sponsored events.