Muslims Giving Back director Yamina Kezadri hopes future Thanksgivings will offer more reasons to be thankful for to migrants. Outside the 47 Hall Street shelter in Clinton Hill, she accounts the roadblocks they’re facing as she awaits the organization’s “Hunger Truck” to arrive.
“Our work has mainly focused on how I can make sure how you can have a safe shelter [or] how I can make sure you have a warm meal,” said Kezadri. “Thanksgiving is an extra, we do change up the menu to be extra giving in a sense…but it’s pretty hard because they’re going through a lot right now with the changes in shelter regulations and them having to be here for just 30 days and it’s just like ‘okay, what should I really be thankful for?’”
Through the Hunger Truck, faith-based nonprofit Muslims Giving Back (MGB) feeds migrants free halal meals regardless of occasion, like this past Tuesday Nov. 14. The process is a long one, with Kezadri arriving hours before. She’s frequently approached by the shelter residents who recognize her and enlist her help with connecting to resources. The Algerian New Yorker speaks Arabic, Spanish and French and employs her full linguistic toolkit throughout the night given the diverse shelter population.
A line quickly forms when the Hunger Truck arrives, a big red mobile with “FREE HOT & FRESH MEALS” blazing over the food window. Volunteers distribute meals in an orderly fashion. Line-cutters are ejected to the back. By the time the last plate is handed out, most migrants are done eating. One shelter resident holds a trash bag and others help him clean up.
Given how deeply embedded Thanksgiving is to the United States, migrants are likely getting their first exposure to the holiday. Kezadri says there’s too much to deal with to explain to them the holiday, repeatedly mentioning the 30-day stay limits as priority concern.
For MGB, a food handout on Thanksgiving evening is an opportunity for the migrants to participate in a tiny way, even if the goal is the same as this past Tuesday: get a hot meal.
“Being that in any festive holiday, whether they celebrate or not, we don’t want to keep them out of it,” said Kezadri. “When they ultimately try to experience it, they’ll have some memory of [it]…so they perhaps may appreciate it down the line.”
On the holiday menu will be a quarter chicken, rice, salad, veggies, and bread; the meal is halal. Kezadri says there’s currently a blindspot for Muslim migrants with dietary restrictions and language services. Many are from North and West Africa, like Barry, a migrant from Guinea whose last name is withheld to protect his identity.
“I need to study [for] school in addition to looking for a job so that I can help my family in my country,” he wrote in French through Google Translate. “Everything is not going well, except for [the] demonstrations only.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member who writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.