I chose to start with food and clothing drives because they are quite possibly the easiest things you can do as a community when it comes to charitible giving (short of writing a check, that is). No matter if you live in an urban, suburban, or rural community, chances are there are people around you -- individuals, families, children -- who are in need of food and good clothing. The USDA estimates that right now, 33.6 million Americans
, including children, are hungry or at risk of hunger because they do not have enough to eat. Nobody should go to bed hungry in the United States or Canada. This is a very real problem that most of us can help alleviate.
It's important to remember that while newspapers, television stations, businesses, and others encourage a lot of giving between Thanksgiving and Christmas, hunger and need doesn't end on December 26th. You might choose to organize your drive around a special Islamic occasion ('Eid, the new Hijri year), but you can also choose just about any time of the year to give.
Although organizing a drive will take a lot of effort on the part of you and your co-organizers, it's something that really requires very little time and effort from your donors, so it should be easy to get people who are very busy with work and life to help out too. The MSA and Muslim teens should be invited to volunteer to collect or sort goods. You can also approach the local Islamic school (daily or weekend) and get the kids involved, by having them bring donations from home. Remember, sadaqa (charity) is an integral sign of true 'iman (faith), so you should try to get as many Muslims as possible involved, as donors or volunteers (or both!).
At least six weeks before you want to launch your drive, you're going to have to obtain written permission from your masjid's board to hold the drive. You will need to get them to set aside space for you to store the donated goods until you distribute them or give them to a non-profit agency. While some of the larger Islamic organizations have experiences with collection drives, it is unfortunately true that many masajid in the US are not involved in food and clothing drives. Sometimes the masjid is too small, or it's a commuter masjid. Sometimes people are living in their own world, focused on problems overseas and oblivious to the ones next door. And maybe sometimes the reason is something else, Allahu 'Alim. It is very likely that your masjid board will have no experience organizing drives and distributing food and clothing directly to the needy.
If you can not use the masjid, don't be discouraged. You can also collect donations at your office, your MSA office, your home, a community center, outside of the masjid after Jumu'ah (you may still need permission), or you can arrange to have volunteers pick up the goods from donor's homes. It takes a little more effort, but it's more than worth it.
If you are not distributing the goods directly yourself (which is most likely, unless you have the masjid involved), you will need to call your local food bank, homeless shelter, or other organization and ask them what they need and how you can bring the donations to them. Please remember that they often do not have adequate storage space, so don't give them winter coats in May. If you collect items like that, it's best for you to store it yourself and then bring it to the shelter as winter draws near. And remember, as much as they need food, clothing, and other goods, they also need volunteers, and they need money. You can help give to them in so many ways.
If you're organizing a clothing drive, you might want to consider hosting a "closet" for your local Muslim community. There may be needy Muslim women and girls (and men) in your own community who are desperately in need of appropriate, modest dress, and can't afford it. You can take special donations of modest dresses, skirts, pants, tops, scarves, jilbabs, and other garments and distribute them especially to Muslims, who already have a hard time finding modest dress.
Clothing collected in a clothing drive should be clean, free of holes and stains. Non profits and others often especially need clothes in plus sizes.
You'll need some supplies to launch your drive, including: tables to sort goods, bins to hold them, signs, balloons, fliers, and lists so that donors know what they should and should not donate. Contact local Muslim (or non Muslim) business people and ask them to get involved. They can collect donations around the office that you should offer to pick up. You should provide them with a bin or container that they can collect goods in. You can even have a theme. For example, with new rules for welfare, more and more non profits need work appropriate attire for people who are entering or returning to the work force. With that in mind, you can hold a suit drive. Put fliers up at the masjid and MSA, ask the imam to announce the drive, and put out e-mail notices on your city's Islamic events list serv.
You'll need to settle on a designated collection time (one week, two weeks) so that people can drop off their donations in that time. You'll also need to set aside a day or two to sort and organize the donations. It's important to provide chairs, tables, and snacks for volunteers. If you are distributing the goods directly from your masjid or another location, you should call your local food bank or non-profit agency for help on notifying people in need about the distribution.
Below are some internet resources to help you with ideas, organizing, and getting in contact with local food banks and non-profits. A special thanks to my friend, The Foodshelf Lady
, who gave me tips and pointed me to several organizations. Check out her blog to read about what it's like to fight hunger in America.
The United Way
The United Way is not a religious organization, and it is non partisan. Your local branch of the UW may be able to put you in touch with a local food bank or non-profit organization.
America's Second Harvest
is the national foodbank network. Find a foodbank in your area, get information on hunger in the US, and tips on volunteering and donating.
The Canadian Association of Foodbanks
How to donate or volunteer at a food bank in Canada, as well as information on hunger in Canada.
How to Organize a Community Food Drive
A plan of action
Hunger Task Force's Food Drive Guide
HTF is a local Milwaukee organization, but you will find valuable information on organizing a food drive here.
National Association of Letter Carriers Annual Food Drive
is scheduled for May 14th, for all 50 states, DC, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and Guam. That allows you enough time to organize a drive and bring the foods to NALC's collection points, if you are unable to store or distribute the goods yourself.
Food Drive Theme Ideas
Dress for Success
gives business and work clothes to women re-entering the work force. They also have tips for organizing a suit drive
and the Salvation Army
both distribute clothing. The Salvation Army is a Christian denomination, but to my knowledge, they do not proselytize to donors or recipients. If you have a large donation, you can arrange for the SA to pick up your goods.
Organizing a Clothing Drive
Modest Clothing Giveaway
is an interfaith Yahoo! group designed to help needy women of any faith (including Islam) get modest clothing.
Sisters in Need
provides Islamic clothing to Muslim women in need.
Islamic Resources for Muslims in Need
Clothing closets, halal food banks, and other information that you may find useful.