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Muslim Community Helps Day Laborers

Muslim individuals and businesses contribute $10,000 to buy new winter coats for day laborers in Herndon.

Day laborer Marvin Santamaria never imagined winter would be so cold in Northern Virginia. A recent immigrant from Honduras, the Herndon resident has taken to layering sweatshirts to keep warm on the chilly days he waits outside for work near the Elden Street 7-Eleven.

So Santamaria rushed to join his fellow Herndon day laborers Sunday morning when a volunteers from Reston, Herndon and Loudoun County distributed 130 new winter coats.

"This is wonderful," said Santamaria in broken English, as he tried on a heavy brown coat.

The winter coats were bought with more than $10,000 the local Muslim community donated in a matter of hours.

"We knew the day laborers had a need for coats," said Mukit Hossain, a board member of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society and a telecom executive who organized the fundraising effort. "We sent out a plea to Muslim businesses and individuals and we raised $10,000 almost immediately."

SUNDAY MORNING, hundreds of day laborers and other low-income immigrants living in Herndon lined up to receive a donated coat. After an hour of handing out coats, the line of mostly Latino immigrants had grown even longer, word of the winter coat handouts having spread through the neighborhood.

So far, the volunteers have distributed a total of 240 coats and are seeking funds to purchase more.

"When we ran out of coats, there were still hundreds of men out there that needed coats," said Ellen Kaminsky, membership manager of the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce who helped distribute the coats Sunday. "The need is considerably larger than we thought."

The volunteers helping with the coat donation project come from the ADAMS Center, Reston Interfaith and the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce.

BUT THE EFFORT was funded entirely by the region's Muslim community, with key donations coming from the ADAMS Center in Sterling, the Virginia Muslim Charity organization and the al-Hijra mosque in Falls Church.

Also, kindergarten and third grade students from the al-Sateh Academy, a private elementary school in Herndon, collected more than $300 for the effort.

"In Islam, charity is one of the most important things you can do as a Muslim," Hossain said. "And people are coming fresh out of Ramadan, when charity is seriously emphasized."

Hossain likened the outpouring of aid to a similar effort in the late 1990s, when the Northern Virginia Muslim community raised money to house dozens of Kosovo refugees in the region.

Thanks to the efforts of Hossain, the Muslim community and the other volunteers, people like Santamaria will be a little warmer this winter, said Amy Langrehr, Reston Interfaith's day laborer coordinator.

"A lot of these guys come from Central and South America," said Langrehr, who works with the Herndon day laborers almost every day. "They're not used to needing a coat. It's a culture shock because they don't realize how cold it can get here."