Members of the area's Muslim community kicked off an initiative last week to end hunger in Herndon by pledging that no one in the town will go hungry during the month of Ramadan.
Slated to run until Nov. 3, members of the community hope the effort will not die as the sun sets on the last day of the holy month.
"This idea of the advisory board was really much bigger than one month," said Margaret Farchtchi, of the Foundation for Appropriate and Immediate Temporary Health. "The idea of the advisory board was that Herndon should be without hunger all the time."
Held in front of a thrift store run by the Foundation for Appropriate and Immediate Temporary Health, or FAITH, the kick-off ceremony drew guests from the local business community, faith-based representatives, members of the area's Muslim community and Mayor Michael O'Reilly.
"Having a program like this start out in the community, by the community and for the community," said O'Reilly, "really helps the community get behind it and support it."
THROUGH THE PROGRAM, the idea is to make the community aware of the issues of hunger in the surrounding areas and to generate support from other organizations to keep the program running. There is also a hope that people in need, or those who can identify people in need, will come forward to receive the assistance, said Farchtchi.
During the next month, FAITH and other volunteers will distribute Shoppers food gift certificates ranging from $5 for children and $10 for adults.
Representatives raised $30,000 to purchase the certificates last week. They were able to purchase the certificates through donations from the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Sterling Charitable Gift Fund. Both organizations were able to donate the money within a two-week period, said Mukit Hossain, FAITH employee and active Herndon volunteer.
"A lot of Muslims feel very strongly about being engaged in various community activities," he said. "As a community there's a lot of interest to be engaged and be an active part of the larger community."
The FAITH advisory board chose the month of Ramadan to kick-off the program because of the month's importance among the Muslim community, he said.
"Charity in the community during the month of Ramadan has always been the case," said Hossain. "A concerted effort has been made to have a concrete effort."
The ninth month of the Muslim calendar, Ramadan is a holy month where Muslims fast during the daylight hours and in the evening eat small meals and visit with friends and family. It is a time of worship and contemplation as well as a time to strengthen family and community ties.
"Ramadan is about connecting with God through understanding people who have very little," said Hossain during the kick-off ceremony.
TO HELP THOSE who have very little, the project, called
Herndon Without Hunger, will provide 55 children and 55 adults a food certificate each day.
The plan is to distribute more than $1,000 a day, said Tanveer Mirza, FAITH founding member.
"We're trying to get all of the Muslims involved in the town of Herndon," she said. "But we're also asking other groups to help because this is a faith-initiated project. We are hoping that all the people will get involved."
The initial plan is to demonstrate to the community and its various businesses and other organizations that the program can be a success, she said. That way, the hope is other groups will step forward and offer to help purchase and distribute certificates either one week, one month or for one section of the town, said Mirza.
"The hope is this will identify a need out there and show people where it's happening," said Nusaybah Ritchie, coordinator Herndon Without Hunger. "Hopefully people, individuals or organizations, will see the value of helping those that require our help in the community."
Residents needing assistance will either be identified through prior relationships with FAITH, or through other assistance organizations in town, she said. They also welcome people to come in for the certificates, which will be distributed to those in need and possibly multiple times during the month.
"Our feeling is one of compassion," said Ritchie. "Especially compassion for the poor, and generosity for those in the community."
DURING LAST WEEK'S kick-off event members in the audience thanked FAITH representatives for starting the program and expressed how impressed they were with the amount of money raised for the cause.
Members of the Muslim community praised the program, saying it was nice to see the religion continue to do positive things for its community.
"I've been in this country for almost 30 years, and I hardly ever see any focus or attention on the contributions the Muslim community makes into the larger community," said Hossain. "But, it's amazing that the slightest negative thing gets amplified. I hope most people are not driven by a lack of information and fear and that they realize what our community is about."