Volunteers deliver gifts so 'no kid is without an Eid'

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Volunteer Maya Elkadri, 6, with help from her dad Kamel Elkadri, hands an educational toy to Nadine Bezzi, 10, who was filling a box to give to needy children.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Malak Saab's last name.

Dearborn — As a child, Malak Saab remembers Goodfellows dropping off a box of gifts during the holidays to her home, a memory she still cherishes.

Now, she wants to give other children the same joy.

Through the Zayn Initiative, Saab and others collect donations to buy gifts so no child is left without a present for Eid, a celebratory Muslim holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

"Our volunteers come together for one good cause and to see firsthand that poverty does exist in our community," said the Dearborn resident. "The Zayn Initiative was started by a group that wanted to do good and saw the opportunity to do that in our Muslim community but in the end, it was just my husband and I and we want to continue to fill in the gaps in the community."

The Zayn Initiative kicked off five years ago, but this is their second annual donation collection and toy drive distribution for Eid. About 100 volunteers gathered at the Sarai Palace banquet hall on Sunday in Dearborn, where they created an assembly line to fill boxes of toys for 200 families in Dearborn and Detroit.

This year, the initiative will bring gifts to 800 kids, nearly doubling their total last year, to celebrate Eid on Tuesday.

The initiative collects donations, which are used to buy gifts from stores like Five Below and Walmart, Saab said. 

"We only collect monetary donations to make sure that the gifts are gender neutral and the same so we don't have to choose which family gets a $70 toy and which gets the cheaper toy," she said. "All the donations go straight to the cause. There's zero overhead and we rely on our volunteers to complete this effort."

Some receiving gifts include orphans and refugees, Saab said. The families are vetted by community organizations.

"No one wants to give their money to a stranger. We go through various organizations that do feedings, handle violence cases, mosques and we reach out to school districts to find those families in need," Saab said. "We rely on those programs like Zaman International to vet the families."

The initiative was inspired by Goodfellows and follows other charitable organizations like Muslim Foster Care Association gift drives during Ramadan.

Mariam Charara, a volunteer for the last two years, said while she fasts during Ramadan, she wanted to comply with another pillar of Islam, charity.

"Ramadan isn't just about fasting from sunrise to sunset. I wanted to give back to the community and help people who don’t have a large spread of food or give gifts during Eid," said Charara, 29. "I wanted to get the full experience of why we fast, and one of those reasons is to feel the impact of people who are less fortunate."

Volunteer sisters Aya Salmassi, 9, left, and Maya Salmassi, 7, put boxes filled with toys into their mother's car, which they distributed to needy area children.

Charara brought her 4-year-old daughter to packing event and while delivering the gifts to other children.

"The look on their faces is a very humbling experience ... There's a smile from ear to ear on the kid's faces," Charara said. "This is the spirit of our religion, what we believe and what we practice. I hope people who see this who have a skewed view of Islam sees what we’re trying to do for the community and joins us in the cause next year."

Saab said she would like the initiative to grow to serve nearly 1,000 next year.

"I have children myself and we have our Eid traditions where I take the children out to buy something," she said. "I started feeling guilty because prior to that, we were going into homes and people asking us for necessities like toothpaste and a toothbrush. I felt so guilty that these kids were forgotten, and that’s not fair. The wealth is here, the community wants to help ...

"We just hope that this Eid initiative can be a staple of another child's memory like the Goodfellows gave to me," she said. 


Twitter: @SarahRahal_