The year’s holiest month nears amid one of the most somber backdrops of our lifetimes.
Based on sheer numbers alone, the Dallas area’s Muslim community went to considerable time and effort to collect and make two sizeable donations to Parkland Memorial Hospital on Friday.
First came a late-morning delivery of 1,500 meals and 1,000 boxes of sweets to hospital staff. A few hours later, 1,000 face shields and 1,000 N95 surgical masks were delivered.
In reality, organizers said their requests to the community for donations were answered so immediately and enthusiastically that the undertaking was rather easy. And more donations are planned in the coming weeks.
“I think this bad time is getting the best out of people,” said one of the organizers, Marwan Marouf, executive director of the Richardson-based Muslim American Society youth center of Dallas-Fort Worth.
Friday’s deliveries were not the first made by the group during the coronavirus crisis. About 900 face protectors were donated to Baylor Scott & White in Irving and Sunnyvale, Dallas Regional Medical Center in Mesquite and the Mesquite Police Department.
Boxes of sweets also accompanied those deliveries, courtesy of BigDash, the Middle Eastern dessert company that also sent Friday’s boxed delicacies to Parkland.
“I think what’s beautiful about this is it’s not one of our many Muslim community nonprofits that are out there right now, serving the elderly and the vulnerable and doing all sorts of drop-offs in the community,” said Omar Suleiman, founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and resident scholar at the Valley Ranch Islamic Center.
“This is just a group of people who started coming together on a regular basis and have been overwhelming hospitals with kindness.”
The effort was launched by local businessman Marwan Nafal, who began the process of acquiring 5,000 full face shields. While making the initial mask deliveries, he saw the need for meals for doctors, nurses and hospital staff members who are working long hours.
Nafal reached out to Marouf and Ruba Kuzbari because of their connections in the Muslim community, and the grassroots effort quickly spread.
Kuzbari’s community relationship-building began eight years ago as a PTA mother. She came to know many restaurant owners while organizing school functions. When the COVID-19 crisis began and those restaurants struggled to stay open, Kuzbari created a WhatsApp group of about 250 residents. Each week, she selected hard-hit restaurants and encouraged WhatsApp members to order from those restaurants.
Now some of those restaurants are among the 20 that have volunteered to provide meals for hospital workers. Friday’s delivery of meals to Parkland came from 14 different restaurants.
“The uniting of all of us together through this time of hardship is amazing and wonderful,” she said. “Hopefully this is a beginning. We’re hoping to add more and more restaurants and contact more hospitals to deliver food and aid for health workers who are working around the clock.”
Naturally, Kuzbari created a separate WhatsApp to connect and organize this budding consortium of altruistic restaurant owners.
The project is personal for Kuzbari, whose husband is a physician. One of their daughters is a resident and another is entering medical school. Kuzbari returned to school to study public affairs and non-profits and is on track to graduate from the University of Texas at Dallas in the fall.
“What really struck me is when I reached out, all of the restaurants, it was immediate: Yes, they wanted to participate. Within 24 hours, we had 1,200 meals lined up.”
Marouf is no stranger to community service efforts, but his experiences have been on a smaller scale: Events such as food drives, feeding the homeless in downtown Dallas, volunteering at assisted-living facilities.
He said he was amazed that after contacting Parkland to schedule Friday’s donations, he received an email from a vice president and a phone call from a senior vice president. “We want to do this long term,” he said. “The pandemic made the opportunity more visible, but the opportunity has always been there. Coordinating this has been very easy.”
Marouf said that during the first couple of weeks of the pandemic, many North Texans understandably were focused on COVID-19’s effect on themselves and their families.
“We did not think much about the bigger community, asking about helping the first responders,” he said. “Then as this thing became more long-term and we could see who was at the highest risk and needs the most support, that’s when it became more evident that we need to do something.”