By Rachel Weiss, April 21, 2020
Ammad Sheikh and his friends started the Long Island Halal Guide Facebook group as a place for fellow halal connoisseurs to weigh in on Long Island restaurants and make connections. What started as a “little foodie community,” as Sheikh puts it, turned into a network of more than 3,500 members.
“It helped really promote small businesses and small restaurants on Long Island,” said Sheikh, of Plainview. “There have been many instances where we have gone and taken pictures and written reviews and said, ‘Wow this food is really good,’ and then they get bombarded with customers.”
However, with the coronavirus outbreak closing restaurants and other businesses statewide, Sheikh wanted to evolve the group into a different kind of resource. He hosted a Facebook Live with some community leaders to put out a call to action.
Long Island Halal Guide partnered with Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Relief, an organization Sheikh says has always been “near and dear” to his heart. The organization has four physical food pantries in New York City, and remote pantries on Long Island (in New Hyde Park) and Staten Island.
ICNA Relief’s regional director, Arshad Jamal of East Meadow, said he’d noticed a need for food such as rice around Jamaica, Queens, and Brooklyn, and that on Long Island he knows of many senior citizens who can’t leave their homes to get groceries.
“We can’t serve everybody,” Jamal said, “but we’re trying our best with our limited resources.”
So, the organizations teamed up to raise money for rice that ICNA Relief could distribute at their food pantries throughout New York or personally deliver to those in need through volunteer efforts.
“With the Facebook Live, we raised enough money to buy 5,000 pounds of rice,” Sheikh said, noting that the group raised about $4,000 for this cause. “And because of contacts through this foodie community, we were able to find a wholesaler who was willing to sell us rice.”
Jamal said they’ve provided rice mostly for individuals and families, but also work with hospitals and senior homes that reach out. He feels strongly about helping anyone who contacts ICNA Relief for support.
“These donations are not only for Muslims,” he said. “Our doors are open for any color, race and religion.”
Long Island Halal Guide and ICNA Relief partnered on another effort involving eight halal restaurants across Long Island. On Sunday night, Sheikh launched the new initiative with the goal of providing hot meals to Long Islanders who can’t afford them.
“Depending on where they live, we would connect the person in need with a restaurant participating, they go to the restaurant, walk in, say your name and mention ICNA Relief,” Sheikh said. “From there, your food is ready and you just grab it and go.”
“This way, these restaurants get some business so hopefully they can manage through these really tough times, and people are being fed in our community,” he added.
For more information on either of these efforts, Sheikh encourages those in need to visit icnarelief.org. He is happy he could count the online community he created during this pandemic.
“This is unprecedented,” Sheikh said. “No one would have ever thought we’d be living in a modern-day plague. So it’s important for all neighbors to look out for each other. This is something I think that everyone has innate in them, and that circumstances like this bring out the best in people.”
Article Courtesy: Long Island Newsday
By Rachel Weiss, April 21, 2020