Zamir Hassan
The Hunger Warrior

Zamir Hassan is the founder of Muslims Against Hunger, Faiths Against Hunger, Hunger Van and One World Community Cafe. He actively engages different communities in social action. For his efforts, he was honored with a Russ Berrie Making a Difference Award in 2014. Let’s find out more about this inspiring individual.

Assalamualaikum! Tell us more about Muslims Against Hunger.

I was born in India and grew up in Pakistan. Came to the US in 1973 from Pakistan to attend graduate school. I was part of IT when there was no IT. -laugh- I was part of the American Dream. Big houses, fast cars – I had them all. In 2000, when I was asked by my son’s school to go to a Soup Kitchen as a chaperone. I asked, “What is a soup kitchen?” You can see how ignorant I was back then. The coordinator told me that she went there every Thursday and invited me to join her. So that Thursday, I went to the soup kitchen. I was shocked. I was living in one of the richest towns in New Jersey and it was right in the middle of downtown. I go to every kind of restaurant there and never knew that the soup kitchen was nearby. We fed 220 people. I saw how many people were suffering from hunger and poverty. I thought about Ramadan and our big iftar gatherings. I thought about the weekly invites I get from my friends to have food at their place. I asked myself, “They live in my backyard and I don’t know about them?” As a Muslim, I’m not supposed to sleep if my neighbor is hungry. In the Quran, we are commanded to be steadfast in prayer and practice regular charity. It’s part of our daily worship. I felt dismayed.

I decided to approach the local mosque. I wanted to bring a group to the soup kitchen so that they could see how it was like. I met the chairperson to ask if I could announce this after the Friday prayers. The first question he asked was, “Are the people you are going to feed Muslims?” I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say. After a while, I said, “Hunger has NO Religion. When we feed people, I am not going to ask what their religion is.” He didn’t look too convinced but agreed to let me publicize the outing anyway. The response was good. However, after a year, people stopped volunteering. The soup kitchen kept calling me to ask when I was going to bring people. I felt so embarrassed. I told them that I needed some volunteers, so they provided some. I started taking my family of 5 to join them and together, we fed people. I didn’t want to give up. I wanted to engage the community in social action. I would invite family and friends over for brunch. Before we ate, I’d bring them to the soup kitchen to show them what was happening. Only after they helped out did I drive them home and feed them. -laugh-

In 2005, a reporter from a local newspaper was looking for a story on life after September 11. Someone directed him to me, and he called me. He asked me what was the name of my organization. We didn’t have a name. I paused and quickly thought of a name.

“It’s Muslims Against Hunger.”
“Okay. What’s your website?”

We didn’t have one.

“We are working on it.”
“Can I come and see what your organization does?”
“Sure, come next Thursday.”

By Thursday, the name became official, and we had a website up. Muslims Against Hunger was formally born. That week, our work was featured on the front page of the local newspaper. Riding the publicity wave, I sent emails to as many people as I could. Mind you, this is before the time of Facebook and social media. People from all over the US started asking me how they could contribute. I learned that I don’t have to convince people to participate. People inherently want to do good and help out, but they just don’t know how. I’m in IT, so I’m a systems kind of guy. I had to figure out how to empower people from everywhere to help where they were. Thus, I created a toolkit for them. I would also drive or fly down to wherever they were to conduct a training session. After that, they could run the program independently.

Within two years, we are in 20 different cities including Toronto. The program evolved into Faith Against Hunger, a North American network of volunteers who help the hungry and homeless. The network provides support services and a pathway to self-sufficiency.

That’s amazing, Ma shaa Allah! What about the Hunger Van? How did that come about?

In 2010, I started thinking ‘How about the hungry people who were not in the vicinity of the soup kitchens? How about people sleeping at train stations? How about people living in the parks?’ I wanted to bring food and needed items to the homeless in the streets. That’s when I came up with the idea of a mobile soup kitchen called a Hunger Van. We launched it onSeptember 11, 2011 and the response was overwhelming.

Today, the Hunger Van project has evolved over the years to create a multi-communal group that transcends religious and social barriers. Also, we are no longer limited to the soup kitchens in 20 cities. With the van, you can do an event wherever you are. All I need are six volunteers and 2 hours, and we can make 100 meals.

Just two weekends ago, I went to Dallas, Texas. I rented a van and bought all the supplies we needed. With just a couple of tables at the mosque, the boy scouts and girls scouts joined hands to make 200 meals on Sunday morning. After that, we drove around and distributed the food. That’s the beauty of the Hunger Van.

What’s your latest project that you’re excited about?

It would definitely be the One World Community Café! On June 11, 2016, we made history by launching the first daily halal, kosher and vegan soup kitchen program in North America. We are implementing the pay-what-you-want concept, while showing the suggested donation amount. In this way, the people who can afford to pay will help subsidize those who need free meals. We are targeting senior citizens, the homeless and people on a fixed income. We also wanted to give people the chance to pay what they can afford and allow them to get assistance with dignity. The One World Community Café uses mostly food from local farms and its own community garden – Go Green Phillipsburg. From Monday to Saturday, hot, healthy and nutritious meals are prepared and served by Interfaith volunteers to anyone who needs a meal. Leftover food that is still fresh is distributed to the homeless and hungry by the Hunger Van Project in various locations. We also use composts for all food scraps and act as a community forum by hosting talks on health and nutrition and showcasing live performances by local artists.

What’s the most beautiful moment you’ve experienced while doing community work?

There are so many wonderful experiences. The ones that I remember the most are when I interact with people of different faiths. For example, every week, a group of Hindus gives me 300 meals to distribute. Every time they see me, they hug me, kiss me and touch my feet. At first, I didn’t know why. Then I realized that it’s because I am helping them with their worship. It amazes me that feeding the hungry is a tradition across all religions.

Hunger has no religion, color or nationality. In Islam, Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said, “He is not a Muslim who goes to bed satiated while his neighbor goes hungry”. In Christianity, there is the parable of the sheep and goats in which the people who served others including feeding them when they were hungry were given salvation. In Judaism, there is the concept of Tikkun Olam which translates to “repair of the world”. According to the Bhagavad-Gita in Hinduism, “sharing food is the highest form of Karma.” I’ve come to realize that this is not just about food. It’s about engaging people to get involved in their communities. It’s about fostering understanding and tolerance through selfless service. Through feeding the hungry, we are united in our diversity.

What is your hope for your community?

That more people in the Muslim community will help to feed the hungry. A family is food insecure if they do not have enough healthy food, or if they do not know how they are going to get their next meal. Do you know how many Americans fall into that category? 48.1 million Americans. 48.1 million! Shocking, isn’t it? Everyone needs to contribute in one way or another to ensure that there is enough food for many generations to come. In the Quran, the commandment to be steadfast in prayer and practice regular charity is repeated more than 200 times. How many times Muslims pray in a day? At least 5. Now ask yourself, how many times do you do charity daily?

Don’t worry, you don’t have to start with a big gesture. The deeds most loved by Allah are those done regularly, even if they are small. Every action counts. When everyone plays a part, a little effort goes a long way. Will you join me?

How Can You Help?

Volunteer Your Time: They need volunteers to help set up, prepare food, serve, and clean up at soup kitchen events around North America.

Sponsor meals: Each meal costs only $6.07.

Donate: You can do so here or mail your tax-exempt donations to: “Muslims Against Hunger Project”, P.O.Box 12, Pluckemin NJ 07978

Encourage family and friends to help out.

Intern: Join them as a volunteer intern to work on poverty reduction projects.

For more information, please contact:

Zamir Hassan
Muslims Against Hunger Project
P. O. Box 12, Pluckemin, NJ 07978

Phone: 908-364-4441

E-mail: muslimsagainsthunger@gmail.com

Muslims Against Hunger, 908-364-4441
www.MuslimsAgainstHunger.org

Faiths Against Hunger
www.FaithsAgainstHunger.org

Hunger Van, 908-340-7575
www.HungerVan.org

One World Community Cafe, 908-977-8000
www.1worldcommunitycafe.org