Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Muslims passed out new winter coats and served hot meals to low-income families in the Herndon area last night to celebrate Thanksgiving.

At least 100 members of the town’s Hispanic community crowded Zuhair’s Cafe on Grant Street, where they received a nontraditional Thanksgiving meal of beef kebabs and rice.

“It is not the traditional Thanksgiving meal, but hey, what is America without a little diversity?” said Mukit Hossain, who heads the Herndon-based Foundation for Appropriate and Immediate Temporary Help (FAITH), which organized the dinner.

About 20 FAITH volunteers served the dinners on paper plates and soda in paper cups. The volunteers had made enough food to feed at least 120 persons. After picking up their meals at the counter, the families sat down at the booths or tables that were set up for the dinner.

Before dinner was served at 7 p.m., the FAITH volunteers began the evening by giving away a van full of new winter coats to those who came to the event.

“We are glad to get the coats,” said Elvis Ayala Sr., whose son Elvis Jr. also received one. Elvis Jr., 5, put on his baby-blue coat as soon as he received it, even though it was still warm outside.

Several minutes earlier, the FAITH volunteers had received more coats from Ray Mhattab, a bus driver for the Fairfax Connector, who stopped by Zuhair’s and made the donation.

“I drive the bus every day and see the need,” Mr. Mhattab said. “I’m so glad this group is doing this. It compelled me to buy up coats, also.”

Last night’s dinner and coat giveaway were only two of many ways Muslims in Northern Virginia dedicated their Thanksgiving to charitable outreach projects.

The Islamic faith obligates its followers to give to the poor and the hungry, so many Muslims participated in charitable events.

“The concept of charity in the West is very different from Islam at a fundamental level,” Mr. Hossain said. “We believe that when one does charity, it is charity to oneself.”

Many Muslim groups prepared roasted chickens and organized canned-food drives for local needy families.

Some 60 volunteers with FAITH had planned to distribute about 100 roasted chickens in the Herndon area, where Mr. Hossain says many needy families live. Instead, they held last night’s dinner with the kebabs.

“We don’t need lists of those in need,” Mr. Hossain said. “All we have to do is show up with the food.”

Ellen Kaminsky, a member of the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce, was all smiles when talking about the giving spirit.

“We’ll show off our town to any other town in Virginia,” she said of Herndon’s charitable residents.

Over the past week, about 100 volunteers with the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) took the canned goods every day to the intersection of Elden Street and Alabama Drive in Herndon, where day laborers congregate.

Others are taking part in an annual coat drive held by Reston Interfaith, which runs through Feb. 12.

Reston Interfaith raised more than its intended goal of $10,000 to purchase winter coats for the needy this year.

“Through the generous contributions of the community, needed assistance will once again be given to those unable to otherwise shield themselves and their children from the winter elements,” said Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins, who represents the Hunter Mill District in Fairfax County, which is a partner with Reston Interfaith for the third year in a row.

Mr. Hossain said he spent much of last week shopping for coats, most of which were given away last night.

About 80 coats were given away last night, and 30 more were given away on Saturday.

“I bought out Target. I bought out Wal-Mart. Then I went back to Target,” he said, laughing about the number of coats Reston Interfaith could purchase with the donations. “Do you know how hard it is to find winter coats in the winter?”

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