Carrie McLean picked up a free hot meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and bread in the bitter cold in Baltimore on Sunday, smiled and sang James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good).”
The 60-year-old woman and others outside St. Vincent de Paul Church on North Front Street downtown accepted the donated food and bags of toiletries collected by the Muslim Social Services Agency and Islamic Relief USA for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
“Fried chicken in the house!” McLean hollered. “It’s a blessing. Can’t put it better than that.”
Organizers collected about 150 bags of toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, socks, deodorant, sanitary products, combs and washcloths, and another 250 or so meals of New York Fried Chicken and turkey and tuna fish sandwiches, according to Imam Hassan A. Amin, executive director of the Muslim Social Services Agency.
“That is what we’re all about: helping other people, helping the homeless, helping widows, helping orphans,” Amin said. “This is what we’re mandated to do. Matter of fact, [people of] all faiths are mandated to help other people.”
About 20 volunteers from the Muslim Social Services Agency and Islamic Relief USA spent their Sunday morning packing the food into containers and toiletries into care packages at the Masjid As Saffat mosque on West North Avenue. Then they loaded them into cars and vans to be distributed to those in need at the downtown church, where many homeless congregate, and shelters nearby.
The Muslim Social Services Agency, a 15-year-old nonprofit organization in the city, gives out food and other items on the second Saturday of each month, Amin said. He said the group has partnered with Islamic Relief, a Muslim humanitarian group, for 11 years.
The groups redoubled their efforts in 2015, after pharmacies and food stores were destroyed in the riots, leaving many in the city without food, medication and other resources.
“Immediately, once they found out riots were going on in Baltimore City … they came and said, ‘How can we help?’ ” Amin said. “We asked [people] what they needed, and then we got it for them, in partnership with Islamic Relief.”
Serving the less fortunate was an apt way to spend the Sunday of Martin Luther King Day weekend, Amin said.
“This is what [King] more than likely would have done,” Amin said, “the same thing we’re doing — to help those in need.”
Aziza Mwidau, a Muslim Social Services Agency volunteer who lives in Owings Mills, carefully ladled gravy onto the mashed potatoes in the Styrofoam to-go containers so that none of it got onto the chicken or the rolls. She doesn’t like the gravy all over her plate. She made each one as though she’d be the one eating it.
The Quran requires acts of service in addition to prayer and other faithful observations, she said.
“Doing good is not just praying, it’s not just fasting, it’s also being conscious of the needs of your neighbors and the poor especially,” Mwidau said. “On a day like today, when the temperature is in the teens, it gives more immense satisfaction to say someone who wasn’t expecting it gets a warm meal made with love.”
Aliyah Inge-Hanif Wilson, 23, planned to take some of the meals and care packages to the homeless at Muslimat Al Nisaa, a shelter in Gwynn Oak that primarily serves refugees and victims of domestic violence.
“When you’re in need, you’re hoping someone is going to help, so when you’re not in need, you should be helping,” she said. “If you have money, if you have wealth, if you have food, you should be donating.”
Amin’s wife, Zakia Amin, and their 8-year-old son, Zakee Khlifi, helped hand out food outside the church Sunday.
“It makes me feel wonderful,” Zakee said. “Imagine being one of these people, starving. … I don’t like that. We’ve got to help them.”