Nameera Perwez picked up on her lesson fast, and she was eager to put it in action.
This is the season for sacrifice in the Muslim community, and the fifth-grader from the Iqra Academy of Virginia had something in mind she wanted to share: food.
For more than an hour Friday, she and 10 classmates from the small Muslim primary school in South Richmond were at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church helping sort canned goods and other nonperishable items they’d just donated to the community food pantry.
“Other people need your help, and you need to help them,” Nameera said as she and classmate Fatin Salman prepared paper grocery bags. “You can’t be greedy. You need to help them.”
Fatin agreed. “The lesson is, you have to care about other people,” she said. “We can help feed other people.”
St. Stephen’s can, too.
Every week, the West End church gives out food to anyone who needs it. Most weeks, they give two bags full of groceries to 60 or 70 families. In September, they helped feed 751 people.
“You’d be surprised who comes through,” said Deb Lawrence, the outreach coordinator at the church.
She said the presumption that the economy is improving hasn’t proven true at St. Stephen’s. Twice in the past year or so, they’ve seen seen increases in the number of families asking for help.
Some people come from the neighborhood, others travel from the East End for the bags full of canned goods, pasta, cereal and other necessities.
“It used to be (that) it was rare we’d get 50 families in a week,” she said. “Last week, we had 65.”
Cyndy Seal, the volunteer coordinator for the food pantry, said about 40 percent of the food comes through the parish as donations and the other 60 percent comes from the Central Virginia Food Bank, which sells food in bulk for 19 cents a pound. So far this year, they’ve purchased nearly 7 tons of food and give away more than 10 tons.
“The need is always greater than what we have,” Lawrence said.
Feras Abuzayda, the principal of Iqra Academy, said his school’s participation was part of its dedication to interfaith service.
“This is a way for our students to make a connection with their creator and to spend time being a good neighbor,” he said.
Fourth-grade teacher Soha Wadi and fifth-grade teacher Madiha Talat watched as their students unpacked bags, sorted food and began repacking based on specific lists that church has honed through the years.
“I hope they learn compassion and learning,” Talat said. “We’re part of a bigger community. This is their chance to become aware that they can help people who are less fortunate. Every little bit helps.”