Why I participate in Feed our Neighbors and what I have learned in the process
by Kim Stepniak
As part of an ongoing effort to build bridges between our communities, the Islamic Association of Allen has invited FUMC Allen to join in preparing sandwiches and assembling meals for the homeless. Serving side by side, we pack around 500 meals on the fourth Saturday of each month. Each meal includes a turkey sandwich, water, fruit, and snack items.
Feed Our Neighbors is an outreach of the Islamic Association of Allen (IAA). Volunteers deliver all of the food to the mobile soup kitchen at Beacon of Light, which is Masjid Al Islam’s Community Service Center.
While writing a check or dropping off food/clothing donations are great things, I have always had a need to put some sweat equity in my service. I also know that I am a behind the scenes sort of person. I want to help, but don’t put me on the front lines! So when I saw this event, I was excited. While the photo of the homeless man almost stopped me (remember I don’t want to be on the front lines!), reading the description explained that I would be PREPARING the sack lunch…not delivering them. WHEW!
It’s so easy to participate in Feed Our Neighbors; you just show up. The IAA provides all the ingredients and materials; you just bring your willing heart and helpful hands. You can help on the sandwich assembly line; put the fruit, crackers, and water in the paper bag; or be the quality inspector, making sure the bag has all items inside before sealing them up with a sticker that affirms the recipient’s value as a child of God.
What I observe at these packaging events is a community that desires to help those in need. Many serve as a family. Kids are welcome and encouraged to participate! The IAA teaches the importance of service to others at a very young age. They explain to the children the value of what they are doing as well as the care and respect placed into the sandwich-making process, with emphasis given that this could be the only meal of the day for someone.
I have always been welcomed, introduced, and thanked numerous times for coming. This opened my eyes to see that what we tend to interpret as a closed off, unapproachable people is really just being respectful of not entering our culture. To borrow from scripture, “They are in the world, not of it.” The people of the IAA welcome questions, and everyone I have spoken with can articulate what their faith means to them. They are eager to share.
I have heard and witnessed a dedication to live out their faith that puts my own to shame. Could you fast for 30 days from sunup to sundown, not even partaking of water? With no chewing gum or sucking on a candy? During this season, our Muslim friends also abstain from any evil words. I witnessed someone who would “gossip” or complain during lunch just turn it off as easily as a flipped switch. What discipline! While co-workers at the table ate and did the typical grumbling, they just sat. WOW! Walking into work, I watched her pick up bits in the driveway so someone else’s tire would not be damaged. When I asked her about it, she replied, “We do no harm, and we do to others as you would have them do to you.”
So, there are many things to learn and even admire about our Muslim friends. Come, learn, serve, and be part of the bridge that wipes out fear and replaces it with respect and understanding.