CHICAGO – Offering the needy a way to survive, Chicago Muslim community will be distributing 5,000 free Thanksgiving turkeys to underprivileged families on the South Side, preserving a charity tradition that has been going on for 16 years in the city.
“The turkey drive is a small way in which I feel that I can give back,” Dr. Jihad Shoshara told Chicago Tribune on Tuesday, November 22.
“We are all part of the same,” Dr. Sofia Shakir, an organizer of the annual turkey drive and Shoshara’s wife, said.
“We’re not helping others. We’re helping our own.”
Members of Chicago Muslim community unloaded a semitrailer full of turkeys on Tuesday morning as mothers and grandmothers waiting to take one home to feed their families.
Volunteers hung a banner advertising the Sabeel Food Pantry, a Muslim-run pantry on the city’s Northwest Side.
The mission of Sabeel, an Arabic word meaning “way”, is to give the poor a way to survive, which is a central obligation of the Muslim faith.
The effort has been going on over the past 16 years, but this year, the Muslim group more than tripled the number of free birds from last year to 5,000 and expanded the project to eight elementary schools in three neighborhoods.
The turkey drive started 16 years ago when then-special education teacher Sadia Warsi heard from a third-grader in her class that he simply wished for food in the refrigerator.
“I was shocked that in a country like ours that was a child’s wish,” said Warsi, who is now an associate professor in special education at National Louis University.
At this moment, she and her husband, Chicago attorney Kamran Memon, called on their Muslim community to help buy turkeys for children in Chicago public schools.
In 2006, Memon turned the project over to Shakir and Shoshara, longtime volunteers.
Through a partnership with the Chicago-based Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, the largest halal certifier in the US that also runs the Sabeel Food Pantry, Shakir was able to negotiate a wholesale price and arrange for refrigerated trucks to make the deliveries.
At Woodlawn Community School on Tuesday, teachers and parents welcomed the Muslim volunteers with open arms.
“These are the times we’re living in now,” said Victoria Bowens, chair of Woodlawn’s local school council.
“Those things didn’t come from us. We know how it feels to be discriminated against. They were able to rise up and step up to help the less fortunate, in spite of.”
Running the project over the past decade, Shoshara said it puts into practice Muslim teachings and fulfills one of the five pillars of Islam called zakat, or charity.
For guidance, he looks to the Prophet Muhammad, who is believed to have said: “He is not a believer whose stomach is filled while the neighbor to his side goes hungry.”
In today’s America, the event is more than feeding a hungry, extending to giving families a way to make a meal and do something for their children.
“If you can have the turkey in your own home and celebrate like everyone else in America, that gives them a sense of dignity,” Shoshara said.
Volunteering for the project since its onset, lawyer LaDale George, 52, of Oak Park, said Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday because it’s not political or religious, it’s universal.
“No matter who you are, where you’re from or what you believe, everyone is thankful for something,” he said.
“It’s the most genuine holiday and creates a sense of giving and sharing.”
Sheree Kelley-Lomax, 23-year-old single mother, went to her son’s school Tuesday morning to pick up a turkey.
“Something like this allows us to come together as a unit because we need unity,” she said.
“I think the election will allow many people to become humble.”
Gladys Tyler, 66, whose granddaughter goes to Woodlawn Community School, also received a turkey to feed more than 20 relatives.
“It’s a blessing that they’re contributing to people in great need,” she said. “It’s an added warmth.”