By Timothy Lewis
Cars lined the UC Riverside campus parking lot with orange traffic cones and motorcycle police directing families to the loading station where volunteers packed two large bags filled with chicken, rice, fresh produce, canned goods and water for families in need.
This drive-thru food giveaway was orchestrated by the Council on American-Islamic Relations – Greater Los Angeles, a branch of one of the nation’s largest American Muslim civil right’s organizations, and local partners Sahaba Initiative and UC Riverside Saturday Feb. 27.
The day of service was meant to show the organization’s support of the Black community, as well as to celebrate Black history, by honoring a noble figure who was a highly respected athlete and activist for justice — “The People’s Champion,” boxer Muhammad Ali.
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” the famed athlete once remarked.
CAIR California has served nearly one million Muslims within the state.
Shaheen Nassar, a CAIR representative and policy and advocacy coordinator, was there to manage and assist the event. He spoke with the crowd of volunteers, introduced partnering organizers and thanked everyone for their support.
“You guys could’ve been at home, you could’ve been watching TV, but you’re here with us and we thank you,” Nassar said.
Nassar also thanked the UC Riverside Muslim Student Association for suggesting the idea to host a food drive for their local community.
The Sahaba Initiative, a local food bank dedicated to social service, was founded in 2010 by local Riverside and San Bernardino youth. Within a short period of time they have managed to branch out to help a wider range of individuals through development and partnership with other non-profit organizations.
Genaro Waheed, the initiative’s founding senior project director, shared the original effort to meet the dietary needs of the immediate Muslim community soon expanded to include everyone within the local vicinity.
Long-standing relations with partnering organizations have allowed the initiative to obtain its own property, in which they have provided a food bank open to those who are in need. Waheed said the group’s aim is to provide enough food to feed 2,000 families a month — an ambitious but possible goal in the acting project director’s eyes.
Members of the Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC), an organization whose board Waheed also serves on, were also present.
Sesley Lewis, Basic Needs senior manager, also assisted with the food giveaway at UC Riverside. She thanked everyone present for their social justice work and time. Lewis also said that it was “unfortunate that people had to come to a drive-thru to receive these resources.”
Gaby Plascencia, City Councilwoman representing Ward 5, thanked organizers and volunteers for their efforts before leaving to pass out gift cards at a nearby grocery store.
Community members loaded bags full of food into trunks in a systematic and socially distanced fashion. Personal protective equipment was also supplied, along with pandemic safety information, including where people can be vaccinated.
Volunteers at the Muhammad Ali Food-Drive ranged from the elderly to young college students from surrounding schools. If you wish to contribute to the Sahaba Iniaitive’s food bank donors can visit them on their website sahabainitiative.org.