IRUSA’s Ramadan Pack-Out Returns in Socially-Distanced, Mask-Adorned Format

April 28, 2021

Syed M. Hassan | Islamic Relief USA

The warehouse in Springfield, Virginia was filled with excitement, as well as a sense of purpose. Volunteers adorned in blue Islamic Relief USA T-shirts worked the well-oiled machine that is the Ramadan Food Box Pack-Out.

It was a welcome relief to see this event resume. It did not take place last year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, which as we all know just about upended or adjusted all aspects of life. While the pandemic is still upon us, it was safe enough to go through with it as long as people are masked and are practice physical distancing.

Several long tables were assembled in a way that resembled a large letter U. White cardboard boxes imprinted with the organization’s logo were packed with nonperishable foodstuffs. Volunteers started with a bag of basmati rice. Then, you moved to your right to pack a bag of flour.

You continued pushing the boxes to the right and continued packing the various items that awaited you; sugar, a bottle of cooking oil, a box of oats, and a box of corn flakes. But it didn’t end there. The next tables contained pasta ingredients (elbow macaroni, tomato sauce), as well as peanut butter, vegetable broth, canned tuna, pitted dates, tea bags, strawberry jam, and bags of lentils and beans.

It was a lot of food packed in a relatively small box. Packing them all in a way so the box doesn’t feel packed to the max is tricky. Fortunately, there was a display showing where exactly in the box the items should be placed. When common sense wasn’t prevailing, this model proved to be invaluable. Once it was studied, it was easy to be on a roll.

Some volunteers packed 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 found and put.

All in all, 2,000 boxes were packed. Thanks to eight hours of sweat equity, thousands of people will be fed.

Delivering food boxes to the families is the other half of this particular mission during Ramadan.

From the warehouse, trucks loaded up the boxes on palettes, tightly wrapped in plastic coverings to keep them secure.  Those trucks then brought them to different delivery sites in the first days of Ramadan across Virginia, DC and Maryland.

Among them was the Wesley Property Management, which oversees multiple communities in Virginia for low-income and voucher-holding families, mostly immigrants and refugees from across the world.  As the big truck from Islamic Relief USA pulled up, another smaller UHaul was waiting.  After unsealing the plastic wrap, about half the boxes were 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 children’s 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. Children were particularly curious.  One memorable resident, a woman with her head covering, said they couldn’t accept this as they were fasting for Ramadan; to which we replied that they should enjoy the contents to break their fast that night!