Muslim volunteers help feed Detroit's homeless

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Mercy-USA for Aid and Development volunteer Hibah Naseer  22 of Canton, left, checks on a pot of soup with volunteer from Northville, Karen Schaumann. Muslim volunteers organized by Mercy-USA for Aid and Development serve food at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Detroit on Dec. 24, 2018.

Detroit — Hibah Naseer never set foot inside of a church, she said. 

That was until the morning of Christmas Eve.

"I'm Muslim and I go to the mosque," said the 22-year-old from Canton Township. "I've never been to a church, but I've wanted to for a long time."

Naseer was among a group of Muslim volunteers who helped serve hot meals and gave canned goods and toiletries to some of Detroit's needy on the day before Christmas. 

"This is my first time coming to a church," she said. "It was very rewarding seeing people from other faiths come together for a common good and help those who are in need."

Mercy-USA for Aid and Development volunteer Hinah Qadir, 31, of Warren, left, serves up hot soup at St. Peter's Episcopal Church. Muslim volunteers organized by Mercy-USA for Aid and Development serve food at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Detroit on Dec. 24, 2018.

The group of about 16 was organized by Mercy-USA for Aid and Development, an international humanitarian aid organization based in Plymouth.

Its members worked with Christian volunteers at the Manna Community Meal soup kitchen at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Trumbull near Michigan Avenue in Detroit's Corktown.

The group arrived at the soup kitchen at about 5 a.m. to prepare for its opening, which happens at about 7:30 a.m.

Its members stood out from the crowd with their dark blue, long-sleeved T-shirts that have a large Mercy-USA logo across the chest.  

This year is the second year Mercy-USA has sent volunteers to help out at Manna Community Meal, said Kayla Botelho, a development coordinator for the organization.

Mercy-USA, which was established in 1988, works to improve health, nutrition and access to safe water, as well as promote economic and educational growth around the world.

She said the volunteers' purpose Monday was to give back to the community, help the needy and allow Christians who would normally work at the soup kitchen time off to celebrate the Christmas holiday.

"This is something we like to do to help out the Christian volunteers and alleviate some of their workload during the Christmas holiday, " Botelho said. "And we really like to make sure we're emphasizing inter-faith partnerships."

She said the organization is already planning to return next year.

"We'll keep coming back here," Botelho said. "We love working here and we love working with the Christian volunteers."

Naseer said she plans to return next year, too.

"If not before," she said. "I feel like the work that's done here is important and I want to continue to be a part of it."

Mercy-USA for Aid and Development volunteers Hibah Naseer, 22 of Canton Township, right, and Hinah Qadir 31, of Warren talk before switching places in the food serving line.

Sponsored by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church, the soup kitchen is located in St. Peter's basement and has been around since 1976.

It's open five days a week and serves hot meals for up to 100-150 people per day, said Marianne Arbogast, one of Manna Community Meal's co-managers. 
Arbogast said she's grateful for the volunteers from Mercy-USA.

"It's great to have them here," she said. "It gives some of our regular volunteers the time to get away during the holiday. I think it's a very kind and thoughtful gesture for them to come."

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez