Co-written by Christina Tobias-Nahi
IRUSA’s volunteer-driven food pack outs return in full force across the nation
It was back!
A warehouse in Springfield, Virginia was teeming with excitement, dedication, and a sense of mission. Volunteers, of all ages and sizes, were decked out in royal blue Islamic Relief USA T-shirts, ready to — as we say here– make a difference in the world.
The event, basically an annual ritual, did not take place last year, due to the then-novel coronavirus pandemic. While the pandemic is still upon us, requiring all to be masked and socially distanced, the precautions are sufficient to safely put on the event.
Several long tables were assembled in a way that resembled a large square U. White cardboard boxes imprinted with the organization’s symbol were packed with nonperishable items. At the first spot, it was a bag of basmati rice.Then, you shifted to the right to pack a bag of flour.
You continued pushing the boxes to the right. Then you packed some sugar. Then, a bottle of cooking oil. Then, a box of oats and a box of corn flakes. Then, it was off to the pasta ingredients section (elbow macaroni, tomato sauce). We continued moving down the aisle, collecting peanut butter, vegetable broth, canned tuna, pitted dates, tea bags, strawberry jam, and bags of lentils and beans.
Process makes perfect
It was a lot of food, which is a good thing. The trick is making sure to pack them all properly so the boxes will close properly and the items won’t be anxious to get out.
Fortunately, thanks to the ingenuity of someone who I don’t know, a display showing where the items should be placed in the box was situated on a table in the middle of the room. When common sense wasn’t prevailing, this model proved to be invaluable. Once it was studied, it was easy to be on a roll.
Soon, volunteers were packing two boxes simultaneously, getting double the work done in the same amount of time. Granted the pace of it accelerated at times, resulting in missing some of the items. But they were almost always detected and items were retrieved.
All in all, 2,000 boxes were packed. Thanks to eight hours of sweat equity, thousands of people will be fed.
Half of the job is packing the boxes as so wonderfully illustrated above. The other half is getting them to the families that will benefit from them.
From the warehouse, trucks loaded up the boxes on palettes, tightly swaddled with plastic wrap to keep them secure. Those trucks then brought them to different delivery sites in the first days of Ramadan across Virginia, DC and Maryland.
One such site was the Wesley Property Management which overseas multiple communities in Virginia for low income and voucher holding families, mostly immigrants and refugees from across the globe. As the big truck from Islamic Relief USA pulled up, another smaller UHaul was waiting. After opening up the plastic wrap, about half the boxes got moved there driven off to another residential site. The rest were offloaded in front of the Wesley Housing in Alexandria VA. They were then stacked onto multiple push carts as staff there and case workers, along with IRUSA staff, weaved in and out of the townhouse units or to the apartment complex doing door to door delivery as the boxes are very heavy, filled to the brim with their contents and some families are more elderly.
For residents not home the cheery boxes were left at their door stoop amongst the childrens bikes and other objects. For the rest they opened up at the sound of footsteps coming up their walk or the knocking or buzzing of their door. Some only shyly said thank you before carting their boxes indoors while others came out and chatted and especially the children were very curious. One memorable resident, a woman with her head covering, said we can’t accept this we are fasting right now its Ramadan; to which we replied yes please enjoy the contents with which to break your fast tonight!
Happy National Volunteer Week, April 18-25!