By Maham Haq –
Hundreds of people lined up outside the Islamic Center of the East Valley (ICEV) starting at around 6:30 a.m. May 30 to collect fresh produce. ICEV served as a distributor for Produce on Wheels – With Out Waste (P.O.W.W.O.W.), a non-profit organization that distributes fresh produce to communities at churches, schools and other facilities throughout southern Arizona and the metro Tucson and Phoenix service areas. For a small donation of $10, anyone can receive up to 60 pounds of fresh produce in return.
P.O.W.W.O.W. receives its produce from the Borderlands Food Bank in Nogales, Arizona, which is situated on the border of the United States and Mexico. More than half of the produce is imported from Mexico and must pass through a strict inspection before distribution. Because fruits and vegetables with even slight imperfections cannot be sold and are often sent to landfills as a result, Borderlands collects the safe-to-eat produce that is rejected and distributes it in hopes of feeding those in need who may not otherwise be able to afford fresh produce. Currently, the group rescues 35 to 40 million pounds of edible produce each year. According to a report from the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, approximately 14% of Arizonians live in food deserts, far above the national average of 4.8%. Food deserts are classified as low-income neighborhoods with low access to affordable fresh produce, according to the USDA. With rising temperatures and inadequate public transportation, getting fresh groceries for many families is a struggle.
Every Saturday, P.O.W.W.O.W. distributes the collected produce to communities throughout the state of Arizona. This is the first time a Muslim community center in the area has been a distributer for P.O.W.W.O.W.
“I had gone to a few of these distributions myself and just thought it was something the Muslim community could easily get involved with, so I reached out to the coordinator and worked on finding a location at a masjid that was big enough to accommodate the distribution. ICEV was perfect. The whole process took about two years to get to this point and I’m so happy with the outcome,” said Kristy Sabbah, the female activities coordinator of ICEV.
Some feel that due to the misconceptions of Islam today, it is increasingly important that Muslims engage with and support the community at large. By helping to make fresh produce more accessible to hundreds of families, the Muslim community of Chandler hoped to do just that.
“With everything going on right now, I think this is a good outreach to the community. It shows people that we, Muslims, are part of the community. I hope this brings upon integration and calms any fears people may have. This is us showing them that we have nothing to hide here at the Masjid,” said Heba, who asked her last name not be used, of Chandler, who was one of the many volunteers.
Sabbah arrived at the site at 4 a.m. to coordinate with the semi trucks that delivered the produce while the rest of the volunteers arrived as early as 5:15 a.m. to set up for the event.
Many of the shoppers were very pleased with the organization of the event and were impressed with how fast the lines were moving.
“I have been to many of these before and I have to say, I was very impressed by this. Everything went very smoothly and everyone was very kind. They all did a very good job,” said Lisa Parker of Phoenix.
Sabbah hopes to continue to host P.O.W.W.O.W. distributions at ICEV in the future and is excited to have a better understanding of how this all works. With its initial run proving a success, Sabbah aims to help run the process even more flawlessly the next time and hopes that it serves as another example that the Muslim community is doing its part to help make this city a better place with healthier people.