by Feeding the City
By, Saira Sikandar
Since 2018, a group of individuals from different faith backgrounds have come together every Saturday morning in the heart of Tennessee to serve one purpose: help tackle the food insecurity issues in Memphis.
901 Ummah, a Muslim youth nonprofit, and First Presbyterian Church, a denominational organization within the City of Memphis, collaborated on a weekly initiative to bring hot nutrient-dense meals to people facing food insecurity within the community. This venture became known as Feed the City, and while the idea in its early stages may have looked different, this new partnership allowed for interfaith understanding through community service.
In its original form, Feed the City was an on-site food distribution project established by 901 Ummah where volunteers gathered in Morris Park to hand-make sandwiches and distribute paper bag meals. Since then, it has expanded under the leadership of Feed the City Director, Nafisa Khalafalla, 901 Ummah Community Service Co-Chairs, Adil Abdurahman, Maryam Taysir, and Zulkar Khan, and First Presbyterian Church Outreach Coordinator, Jamie Evans.
“We got the idea to expand over a conversation in the Appalachian Mountains,” said Abdurahman, who also serves as the head chef on Saturday mornings. “We started making hot meals in Zulkar’s kitchen, which was okay for the time, but we knew we had to expand if we wanted to make a greater impact.”
With a drive for change, Abdurahman and Khan scoured the city and knocked on doors looking for an industrial kitchen to expand their current operations into a more extensive program. With a bit of digging and a lot of luck, the two stumbled upon First Presbyterian Church who had been servicing the city with their own soup kitchen every Sunday for the past 45 years. It was a match made in heaven.
To those native to Memphis, it is well known that the city has the highest rate of poverty within the United States, according to the University of Memphis’s 2020 Memphis Poverty Fact Sheet. However, those moving into the area may be impacted by the information differently.
“I’m from Jackson, Tennessee, and before that - Sudan,” said Khalafalla. “This definitely made me want to get involved even more because the Muslim community in Jackson is so small, and here there was so much that I felt like I could do. It was just a matter of how.”
In 2018, Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap reported, an additional $74,588,000 would be required to meet the food needs and fill the insecurity gap within Shelby County, currently averaging $3.13 per meal. Through Feed the City, all meals are free to recipients and made with fresh produce bought or donated weekly.
“Giving people in need bologna sandwiches and snacks was a good start, but it was important for me to give nutrient-dense meals,” said Abdurahman. “So now we serve chicken, chicken curry, stir fry vegetables, and other dishes every week. I want to kind of make it a culinary experience with my Ethiopian background as well. I want people to enjoy what they’re eating.”
The initiative has allowed faith organizations to come together for a common purpose and open dialogue amongst volunteers. Being visible Muslims working out of a church kitchen has created a collaboration now deep-rooted in friendship.
“When Adil and Zulkar came to me with this idea, it felt like a win-win since we were already doing a soup kitchen on Sundays,” says Evans. “I mean, it’s just people coming together for common good and to spread God’s word no matter what you may believe in.”
For ways to get involved, visit 901 Ummah’s social pages @901Ummah or email them at 901Ummah@gmail.com. Or donate directly at 901Ummah.org/donate and let them know you would like to donate to Feed the City in the comments.