PATERSON, N.J. – Each week a team gathers in the kitchen of the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson to prepare hot, nutritious three-course meals for about 450 people.
“People feel worthy when they eat this well,” said Akbar McEntyre, a congregant of the center and the founder and executive director of Humble Beginnings, a non-profit organization that engages people in the areas of substance abuse education and prevention.
The group is closely affiliated with Muslims Against Hunger, a project aimed at raising awareness toward hunger, poverty and homelessness.
And with Ramadan beginning Friday evening, Humble Beginnings has a stronger presence than ever.
Each Sunday, McEntyre and a group of volunteers prepare the meals and serve them to residents of Paterson.
More than half the city's population lives below the federal poverty line, and many residents are impacted by the heroin epidemic, widespread homelessness and mental health issues, according to McEntyre.
“When we show up in the community, a certain amount of serenity hovers over the community just because of our mere presence,” said McEntyre, a social worker in the substance abuse field.
McEntyre launched the feeding program a few years ago as a way of bringing people in, getting them referred for treatment, and getting them off the streets.
Back then, McEntyre was doing it all by himself. Now he has about 15 committed volunteers, including some who got clean as a result of working with him.
One of those people is now the program’s head chef, “responsible for the full course meal, I am talking about good, quality food that lends to people’s self-worth,” McEntyre said.
McEntyre said not all the people his team feeds each week are homeless or using drugs.
Many are working, struggling to make ends meet, and forced to decide between buying food and paying rent, he said.
Ultimately, McEntyre would like to build a community resource center, where people can receive treatment for substance abuse, trauma and mental health issues, and be connected to social services.
“We are very compassionate, loving people, with vested interests in making sure that the community becomes safe again,” McEntyre said.
Some of the organizations that help Humble Beginnings serve people in Paterson include: Brother’s Produce, Smile for Charity, Panera Bread and the Islamic Center of Passaic County.
To watch a video about Humble Beginnings, CLICK HERE . To learn more about the organization, CLICK HERE . Those wishing to donate can send contributions to: Humble Beginnings, Inc., PO Box 3103 Paterson, N.J. 07509.
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