By Tony Raap
Fatuma Muya stood in a long, single-file line that snaked across the Northview Heights playground.
The line inched toward a white tent, where Ryan Harris, an offensive tackle for the Steelers, and members of ICNA Relief, a Muslim charity, distributed backpacks to children.
“I’m so excited,” said Muya, a Somali immigrant and mother of eight, six of whom are in school.
“Book bags are expensive,” she said, adding she couldn’t afford to buy new backpacks for all her children.
ICNA Relief coordinated with Pittsburgh’s Housing Authority and the Pittsburgh Project, a Christian community development organization, to give 400 backpacks to students in the Northview Heights neighborhood.
The event was part of ICNA’s Back 2 School Giveaway, which has delivered 100,000 backpacks to low-income children across the U.S. since 2009. Sunday marked the group’s first such event in Pittsburgh.
The backpacks contained a ruler, a notebook and a plastic pouch with scissors, pens, pencils and an eraser.
Organizers said money for the supplies mostly comes from private donations.
Harris, a practicing Muslim and nine-year NFL veteran who signed with the Steelers in the offseason, posed for photos with fans while handing out bags.
“Every single Pittsburgh Steeler you see, they all went to college,” he told the crowd. “If you want to be somebody, pick up a book, find what you like to do — and do not stop at succeeding at your goal.”
The media shows “a lot of bad images” of Muslims, leading many to have a negative perception of Islam, said Omar Ranginwala, event director with ICNA Relief. He hoped Sunday’s event would help the community see Muslims in a different light.
“This is what our religion and all religions are really about,” Ranginwala said. “It’s about giving back, being a part of society and helping others.”
Northview Heights is a diverse community, said Yasmin Shaheed, chief administrative officer of the city’s Housing Authority, who noted that many standing in line were dressed in traditional Muslim garments.
“We do have residents that have different backgrounds and religions,” she said. “Hopefully, this will educate them and expand their horizons when it comes to religious backgrounds.”
Valerie Lauw, president of the Northview Heights Citizens Council, was pleased with the large turnout.
Many families in the neighborhood struggle to pay for school supplies. Free backpacks mean a lot to children in the community, she said.
“More events like this will continue to bring this culture together because we are one,” Lauw said. “We’re family. I don’t let anyone say any other way. We’re family.”
Article Courtesy: Tribune-Review