It was Muslim Serve Day at the Mary Brennan soup kitchen in Hempstead.
Wearing a bright smile beneath her white head scarf, volunteer Homa Khowaja, a recent graduate of Stony Brook University, was popping delicate cherry tomatoes and carrot pieces into 400 cups of salad.
Nearby Zamir Hassan, a computer consultant, was tasting the rice cooking in huge cauldrons. Fragrant trays of tandoori chicken, prepared in volunteers' homes, stood waiting to be served to 400 expected guests. The pace quickened to a feverish pitch as the hour for the guests' arrival approached.
Khowaja, 22, of Massapequa, and Hassan, 58, and about 25 other volunteers were wearing name tags that identified them as Muslims Against Hunger, an organization founded by Hassan in 2002.
Hassan was inspired, he said, when he worked with his son on a school project in a Morristown, soup kitchen and discovered that the New Jersey community, one of the wealthiest in the country, had hidden poverty and hunger.
Through the volunteers the New Jersey resident also learned that there are as many as 259,000 hungry on Long Island, where there is a large Muslim population from which he could recruit volunteers.
The group, which also serves at New Jersey soup kitchens, sponsored its first Long Island charity lunch at the Mary Brennan soup kitchen last fall and has returned four times. Hassan now hopes to expand the charity mission to Suffolk County.
Why they do it
Charity, Hassan noted, is "the third pillar of Islam." The group's Web site, muslims againsthunger.org, offers volunteers "an opportunity to support and participate in the 'Act of Righteousness'" and to "show the greater community the true and compassionate face of the Muslim and Islam." The Prophet Muhammad directed his followers to "Help the weak among you, Help your neighbor, if he seeks your help, Feed him if he is hungry."
Hassan had little difficulty recruiting Long Island volunteers, who range from teenage students (16 is the youngest allowed) to retirees in their 60s. Part of his aim, he said, is to "teach Muslim young people about the problems of hunger, poverty and homelessness in our own neighborhoods."
Khowaja, a psychology graduate, is on her fourth soup-kitchen project. "I love it - it's a great community service," she said. She and other young women in head scarves were enjoying each other's company as they filled the salad cups.
The Interfaith Nutrition Network, which runs soup kitchens across Long Island, welcomes such sponsorship, said communications director Cynthia Sucich. The help is particularly needed when schools are closed and children don't get the school lunches that families depend on.
"The summer months are especially challenging," she said. (MORE)