Metro Detroit groups step up to fill needs amid pandemic
Every Saturday for more than a month, Isauro Sanchez has driven around southwest Detroit delivering relief from a truck.
The 27-year-old volunteered for “Not a Family Goes Hungry,” a program led by Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church with its school, community leaders, nonprofits, business partners and sponsors to distribute food boxes to residents struggling during the COVID-19 crisis.
To Sanchez, the mornings spent giving the goods to those in need is “a reward in itself,” he said. “I know a lot of families don’t have the chance to get the help they need. Spiritually, you just feel good about helping out the community. It’s really emotional, too.”
As the pandemic hits pocketbooks and cupboards across southeast Michigan, many religious and community-centered groups are stepping up: launching initiatives and giveaways as well as extending their efforts to fill gaps, boost underserved areas and support workers.
With unemployment numbers rising and economic uncertainty looming over the region, some benefactors expect to keep up their work long after the state’s stay-at-home orders end.
“The need — it could last for a whole year,” said Muthanna Al-Hanooti, community relations manager at the Islamic Center of Detroit, which has launched a daily food distribution program.
In recent weeks, the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion has teamed up with Community Movement Builders Detroit to dole out school supplies and as many as 10,000 face masks through their Race2Equity COVID-19 Rapid Response Project.
Both groups work to address issues affecting minorities, including African Americans, who health and government officials have found the virus has infected disproportionately, including in Michigan.
“It’s definitely hitting the most vulnerable the hardest, but also people who are fortunate to have a job,” said Yusef Shakur, Michigan Roundtable co-director and CMB Detroit president. “…There are a lot of people who are being left behind.”
The “Not a Family Goes Hungry” program has similar aims. Each week, about 70 pre-registered families receive parcels full of fresh produce, meat, canned goods, milk and eggs, cereals, bread and dried staples from local stores such as Honey Bee Market (La Colmena), Prince Valley and E&L Supermercado, coordinators said. Costs are covered through donations from partners such as Magna International, Ideal Group and Marx Layne & Co., while the Southwest Detroit Business Association helped secure delivery.
The gifts hearten the recipients, said Carmen Muñoz, Christian service director at Most Holy Redeemer. “Some of them had tears in their eyes. They were very grateful.”
Gratitude has buoyed volunteers with the Sikh Gurdwara of Rochester Hills, which houses the Aasraa Food Pantry and an affiliated mobile food truck. Through both, associates have delivered thousands of meals to locals and the Avondale and Troy school districts as well as places in Detroit, lead volunteer Mandeep Singh said. “The need is there whether there is a pandemic or not. We feel like it’s our mandate to serve those that are need or are kept down in society.”
Recognizing COVID has stressed first-responders, Shalinder Singh, another Sikh, has delivered hundreds of pizzas to hospitals such as St. Joseph Mercy Oakland and DMC Huron Valley-Sinai, members said.
The West Bloomfield Township resident has catered to the homeless since high school and welcomes the chance to support doctors and nurses while also fulfilling a core tenet of Sikhism: seva, or selfless community service. “They’re saving lives, so it means a lot,” Singh said.
Coinciding with a larger global effort, Metro Detroit's community of the Dawoodi Bohra, a branch of Islam, has pushed to expand its reach since the pandemic emerged.
Between March and early May, members said they donated an estimated 10,000 pounds of food to the nonprofit CARES of Farmington Hills to support vulnerable families. They also packed more than 700 bags of food there to distribute, served hot meals to 110 families and sewed face masks to donate to medical staff, said outreach coordinator Mustansir Saifuddin. “It was amazing how our community came together.”
Unity was the goal for regional Muslims, who have been unable to worship in person during their holy month of Ramadan.
The time usually revolves around charity, but with need especially acute in some neighborhoods, members at the Islamic Center of Detroit opted to serve hot meals on as many as six days a week, Al-Hanooti said.
On Fridays, through partnerships with area groups, they have also been distributing food baskets with staples to hundreds, he said. “We cannot stop it at this point. … Many people are having financial challenges.”
Throughout Ramadan, mosques and community centers across Metro Detroit have contributed thousands of meals and food to people, said Dr. Mahmoud Al-Hadidi, board chairman for the Michigan Muslim Community Council.
The financial difficulties resulting from the outbreak have prompted drives such as a recent one at the Al-Huda mosque in Dearborn. Such events, he said, “will be an ongoing thing until the need is filled and things are looking better.”
International Gospel Center, a church in Ecorse, has launched a weekly food distribution at least through fall and possibly longer, said Marvin Miles, its pastor for more than 20 years. On Wednesday, helpers handed out about 1,000 boxes at the curbside. Other giveaways also are planned.
The efforts models a call ordered in the book of Matthew in the Bible to look after the less fortunate, Miles said. "This is what our church lives on."