By Lisa Fernandez
This summer, a group of Silicon Valley-based Muslims will serve all-halal meals to the hungry from a roving food truck — an effort that’s the first of its kind in the Bay Area, perhaps in the nation.
The Bay Area chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America, or ICNA, will officially debut its yellow Mercy on Wheels truck today.
Beginning in July, the truck, which cost about $35,000 to buy and retrofit, will be used to serve nearly 400 meals a month in San Francisco and Oakland, at a cost of an additional $45,000 a year, organizers said. All the funding comes through community donations.
“We’re the first Muslim group to go mobile,” said Obaid Siddiqui, president of the Bay Area ICNA chapter headquartered in Santa Clara.
Synagogues, churches, mosques and temples help out with soup kitchens, and sometimes even staff their own meal programs. And of course, Meals on Wheels delivers food to seniors and other homebound people. But no other community group operates a mobile soup kitchen with a halal menu.
“I’ve never heard of it before,” said Lynn Crocker, spokeswoman for Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.
For the past three years, on the last Saturday of each month, a group of 50 to 100 ICNA members have been driving to San Francisco in their own cars, serving meals at the United Nations Plaza, and two blocks away, in front of a mosque, said Ameen Ashraf, vice president of the group. At the same time, other volunteers have gone to 32nd Street and San Pablo Avenue in Oakland to feed the hungry.
The delivery spots will continue to be the same, Ashraf said, but now, the rice, mixed vegetables and curried chicken, mostly donated by the Shalimar Restaurant chain and Crescent Circle in Santa Clara, will be delivered, hot and steamy, from a converted DSL delivery truck that’s painted bright yellow. ICNA bought another truck but can’t afford to retrofit it yet.
Ashraf said ICNA has tried to purchase a brick-and-mortar soup kitchen in the Bay Area, but it was too costly. Also, the group tried delivering food to the hungry in Silicon Valley, but Ashraf said his volunteers noted the demand simply wasn’t as great as in San Francisco and Oakland. There are no immediate plans to add the South Bay to ICNA’s route, even though the group’s located in Santa Clara and many of its members live in the valley, Ashraf said.
The Muslim group doesn’t ask for any credentials or references before handing out the food and doesn’t know how many Muslims or non-Muslims it feeds.
“Frankly, we don’t ask, and we don’t care,” Ashraf said.
Still, Ashraf said the group chooses to use donated food that’s halal, prepared according to Muslim dietary law, because those are the restaurant owners they know, and they want to accommodate any devout Muslims who may be hungry. That also means no dishes containing pork.
He did note that the clients, whatever their religious or ethnic background, seem to like the spicy Indian-Pakistani cuisine.
“We started sharing food during a time of sacrifice and feast,” Ashraf said. “Doing it once a year was good, but we thought we should be sharing food more often. It’s our faith. God requires us to feed the hungry.
Article Courtesy: MercuryNews.com