Two weeks ago, on Eid, trucks headed out across the country, filled to the brim with colorful gifts packaged at Islamic Relief offices—making Eid brighter for thousands of children.
Islamic Relief USA’s fourth annual toy drive brought together close to 150 volunteers in 16 cities to organize events collecting more than 3,000 toys for children who might not receive gifts otherwise … and it all stemmed from the initiative of one 11-year-old boy, just three years ago.
Rauf’s family was sitting together one night in their brightly decorated living room, enjoying the Ramadan atmosphere and looking forward to Eid. The subject turned to the many new refugees in their community in Dallas at the time, who were gathering in much more bare living rooms, without the means to make their children’s Eid special. Rauf—the son of Islamic Relief USA CEO Anwar Khan—decided he wanted to get some toys to them.
“He started this,” said Laila Khan, Rauf’s mother. “We love Eid, we totally go all out out, and we were saying, what about the people who don’t have anything like this?”
With Eid coming soon, they moved quickly to invite people to donate toys.
“We called the local library to see if we could use a room, and in the course of one night, we generated a flier and put it on Facebook,” she said, “and masha’Allah, overnight, a couple hundred people said they were going to come to the event. We decorated it like a birthday party.” With his sisters’ enthusiastic assistance, Rauf helped organize the event, and child after child arrived with gifts to give.
It was such a success that in short order, friends told friends, and another dozen toy drives were held in time for that Eid, gathering 1,200 toys.
Then they got to deliver the toys to the refugee families.
“When they opened the truck and the kids saw these wrapped presents coming out, their eyes just lit up,” Khan said. “Allah knows what they’ve been through, but it’s dramatically impacted them. This was just an opportunity to bring a little bit of light into their world.”
It was also humbling. She quickly realized that this was not the time for photo ops. “You’re standing next to those mothers and fathers who are just like you, and you have to respect their dignity. We’re all parents.”
Just three years later, the drive has spread to 16 cities, run by 100-150 volunteers across the country. Each drive raises 200 to 500 toys, with even more collected at IRUSA’s Virginia headquarters.
“They’re all volunteer initiatives,” Khan said. One Girl Scout troop ran a drive themselves as their project. Another youth group ran a drive in their city. A radio station held one too.
When a group contacts IRUSA to run a toy drive, staff members help them organize it, said Zebiba Jibreel, IRUSA’s national volunteer coordinator. IRUSA supplies wrapping paper, scissors, tape, bows and other items needed to wrap the gifts. In places close to an Islamic Relief office, a staff member will go there in person and help set up.
Then children arrive, bringing gifts to give away. They each wrap their gifts, and make a card with a personal message. Then they drop off their gifts and receive a certificate and a treat, and have their photo taken.
“This is an effort from kids to kids,” Jibreel said. “What their family and Islamic Relief do is make it happen.”
The toys are then given to local organizations to distribute—masajid, schools, even county social services. Fairfax County in Virginia picked up toys for social workers to give to Muslim children they work with.
“They are so happy,” Jibreel said. “Everyone is happy—not just the kids but especially the people who work with the children. They’re grateful that we’re helping them to put a smile on the children’s face. They say, ‘I want to be the one who gives the gifts out.’ ”
She’s happy to sit back and watch: “The kids open the gifts and yell out what they got—‘I got a Frozen scooter!’” It’s scene after scene of pure childhood happiness.
In a 2012 interview, young Rauf said, “Shahru Ramadan is a month of giving. I feel really good after I’ve done a good deed and helped with the toy drive, because all the children who are done are smiling, feeling so happy after what they’ve done, and I feel just the same way.”
His mother added after this year’s distribution: “I always think, these kids are my own kids. They’re our own children. With all the blessings we have here, there’s no reason we can’t do more.”
And start other initiatives too, she said.
“Each person reading this has the capacity to do something,” she said. “This was one person’s idea that manifested into something great, masha’Allah. We want people to go find something they’re passionate and go do it.”