As in previous years, through its numerous programs and services, ICNA Relief, has continued to provide for the greater American community and assist in the betterment and empowerment of people across the country.
This year, in particular, such relief was especially joyous both to give and to receive in light of the challenges of 2020, marked overwhelmingly by the COVID-19 pandemic. In spite of the extensive loss and great distancing, it also brought people together, ultimately strengthening bonds of humanity in such severe times.
Early during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a shortage of PPE everywhere. With unanswered questions about the airborne aspect of this virus, everyone needed masks and healthcare workers were reusing their PPEs. The shortage led CDC to announce mid-March, “In settings where facemasks are not available, Health Care Providers might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort.”
ICNA Relief operates 23 Transitional Homes across the country. Their Dallas facility has an empowerment center, equipped with computers and sewing machines, to encourage residents to develop their skills and have a safe space for growth. The residents of the Transitional Home who had sewing abilities and community members, such as Reem – a Syrian refugee and a fashion designer who creates stunning bridalwear for a Texas boutique – as well as other volunteers, went store to store to find fabric and elastic needed for masks. However, the pandemic had caused many shortages as well as many stores to be closed due to the lockdown. The group, however, kept faith and instead bought high quality bed sheets, and ribbon instead of elastic, and created the bended nose section with pipe cleaners from the children’s craft section. Reem taught the volunteers and residents how to cut and sew the pieces together.
The volunteers then announced their project on social media, thereby allowing news of their work to travel quickly. From there, they started to receive multiple calls from multiple medical offices and hospitals. A local community member also requested the masks for all the elderly neighborhood individuals who didn’t have them. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson heard of the initiative and asked for masks for her office and staff as well. She even sent a beautiful thank you letter to the ICNA Relief DFW office. Sheikh Omar Suleiman helped deliver the masks to Parkland Hospital. The team was making so many masks that volunteers set off to get boards to help cut faster and more efficiency. This project gained so much traction, with many people donating to the project and others donating to the Transitional Home as well.
The work of ICNA Relief during the pandemic also traveled through the arid drylands of Arizona to the various Native American tribes who live there. COVID-19 has caused an enormous amount of food shortages across food banks in Arizona. This is an even more dire problem across the “food desert” areas of the Arizona Native American population, especially the Navajo Nation. As the virus spread, the Navajo Nation became the epicenter of the disease as the number of cases increased.
ICNA Relief was able to create accessible food pantries and deliver food boxes to these tribes. They spent over $30,000 to gather essential food items such as rice, flour, oils, pasta, pasta sauce, baking powder, salt and more. The Facebook fundraiser for water raised about $2,800, allowing them to distribute about 15 pallets or 4,050 gallons of water to the underserved tribes.
With efforts like these, in-kind donations of resources are tremendously helpful. ICNA Relief thanks Mohammad Elengery and his wife Yomnna for lending their 54 ft., eighteen-wheeler for these large shipments. Without this resource, ICNA Relief would have spent a few grand on renting a vehicle that was large enough or taking multiple trips to deliver this much food.
Volunteers also held a distribution in White Mountain for over 173 families. These families received the essentials and perishables like bread, fresh vegetables and fruit. There were other distributions in Yuma City to Cocopah and the Quechan tribe. Some of these distributions also included dairy products. ICNA Relief also assisted the Hualapai tribe in Valentine, AZ and provided boxes for around 100 families. The Vice Mayor of Arizona, Lauren Kuby, has been an avid supporter of ICNA Relief’s initiatives in these communities, even making her own Facebook fundraisers to help with gas for transportation and hygiene items. The local leadership, like the Cocopah Tribal Council Member Rosa Long, Quechan Tribe Council Member Charles R. Escalanti and Anthony Allison from the Navajo Nation along with Kyle Jim (a member of the Diné clan) and his sister, Bree Lameman, COVID-19 Relief coordinators, made all of these travels and distributions possible.
ICNA Relief also worked extremely hard to combat the deluge of misinformation that coincided with the increased spreading of the coronavirus in order to best support and protect communities across the country. As a non-profit committed to serving diverse communities, ICNA Relief has produced informational pamphlets in multiple languages, containing health and safety guidelines from CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Early on, before the shelter-in-place order, these pamphlets were distributed in local mosques and community centers.
ICNA Relief quickly saw the need of being a voice of comfort and guidance and created the ICNA Relief National Helpline. The helpline offers help in multiple languages: Spanish, Urdu/Hindi, Arabic, and Bangla. This enables new immigrants, refugees, and elderly non-English speaking individuals to navigate this pandemic through inquiring about financial assistance, unemployment and insurance.
ICNA Relief Health Services also deployed a Telemedicine line so that individuals may speak with a nurse or doctor to see if their symptoms entail an ER visit or if they may be indicative of a seasonal cold. ICNA Relief was thus able to provide a means by which the burden on both emergency rooms and hospital personnel was alleviated. The telemedicine line was also able to assuage the fears of the general public seeking assistance and advice regarding their own symptoms or the lack thereof. There were fears of potentially catching the virus in emergency rooms and hospital centers, and by creating an intangible space in which people could receive help, the telemedicine line erased the need to go to these locations for further information.
This pandemic comes with a surge in the need for psychosocial help, thus, hand in hand with telemedicine, the health services team has developed lines for tele-therapy in specific states. ICNA Relief has free health clinics in seven cities across the states: Mount Pleasant, SC, Anaheim, CA, Athens, GA, Duluth, GA, Philadelphia, PA, Oklahoma City, OK, and Dallas, TX. Tele-therapy allows the clients who come to the clinic to continue their mental health treatment through counseling sessions over the phone.
Many of the ICNA Relief offices have also distributed hot meals to the ER doctors and nurses. In New York City, in particular, ICNA Relief collaborated with the Latino Muslims of NY to deliver hot meals to Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, and Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens. In Atlanta, GA, volunteers delivered more than 250 hot meals at Emory Johns Creek Hospital and in Sacramento, CA, the team did the same at the Methodist Hospital.
In total, ICNA Relief, Alhamdulillah, has been able to serve 885,828 individuals and 183,154 families nationwide through all its branches. Of these numbers, 357,841 children were served, and 51,026 elderly individuals were served as well. ICNA Relief was able to distribute 239,204 food boxes and 104,609 hot meals, and overall delivered a whopping 9.6 million pounds of food and groceries to those in need – a value of almost $12 million.
ICNA Relief’s telehealth services have also been widely utilized. The ICNA Relief Helpline was able to help 148 clients, and the ICNA Relief telehealth services provided a value of about $91,000 worth of services and about $200,000 worth of counseling and educational services during this past year. ICNA Relief was also able to distribute 11,636 hygiene kits nationwide at a value of about $93,000. During Ramadan, in particular, ICNA Relief distributed over 13,000 food boxes, about 47,000 iftars, and about 3,400 toys across the country. Overall, ICNA Relief was able to aid and care for 127,590 individuals in Ramadan alone.
ICNA Relief could not have been able to do this work without the help of our treasured volunteers – 7,779 volunteers joined ICNA Relief in our efforts to alleviate the troubles of the great American community and put in about 38,895 hours into doing so. 2020 was by no means a simple year for all of us worldwide. But, Alhamdulillah, in the spirit of care and generosity, a spirit which we emulate from the example of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), ICNA Relief is confident that together we are able to keep bonds of community and service strong despite such difficult times.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. It serves as both a reminder of one of the most traumatizing occurrences to unfold on American soil and as a testimony to the resilience of every community living here in America.