CEDAR RAPIDS — The Zakat Foundation of America distributed 11,000 pounds of fresh produce in the Cedar Rapids area on Thursday.
Halil Demir, executive director and founder of the foundation, brought 10,000 pounds of meat, vegetables and milk straight to HACAP in Hiawatha after connecting with Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha.
Then, he took 1,000 pounds to the distribution center set up outside the Ladd Library in southwest Cedar Rapids.
The Zakat Foundation is an international, Illinois-based humanitarian organization that provides relief to communities struck by disaster. The organization also has been helping refugee populations all over the world for almost 20 years, Demir said.
Growing up in a remote village in Turkey, Demir experienced poverty firsthand. In 2001, he and other Muslims established The Zakat Foundation. Since then, the foundation has established schools, orphanages and health clinics, constructed water wells, mosques and community centers around the world and delivered money and resources for areas torn by war, hurricanes, earthquakes and now a derecho.
Demir and Mathis met at the Ladd Library distribution center last week when the Zakat Foundation was delivering supplies.
“I promised them I was going to come back,” Demir said.
“We hope to have a long-lasting relationship with him,” Mathis said. “I think he can bridge a lot of relationships in our community.”
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Demir said dealing with a pandemic in an area devastated by a natural disaster creates extra challenges for everybody.
“Since COVID, we’ve also been distributing masks and gloves in many cities,” Demir said. “That’s another challenge. People have lost homes and food and now we have COVID, too. The immune system needs resistance to stand against the virus, and we brought the best foods to bring.”
Foods like fresh produce and milk have been in high demand at food pantries and other food distribution centers. Now that power is back on in Eastern Iowa, community members that had to empty out their refrigerators and freezers are able to store fresh produce again.
“When I spoke with Halil, we had just ran out of produce,” Angie Albright, food reservoir partner agency/program manager for HACAP, said. “Produce is not something we typically see large quantities of.”
Albright said Demir said he would be bringing, literally, tons of produce.
“We are extremely grateful,” Albright said. “People are trying to restock fridges and freezers, and fresh produce isn’t cheap.”
This also wasn’t Demir’s first trip to Cedar Rapids. The Zakat Foundation visited Eastern Iowa after the 2008 floods.
“We heard the city was hit badly again so here we are again,” he said.
The Ladd Library distribution center, along with four other distribution centers around the city, remain open every day of the week, offering food and other supplies like diapers and wipes to anyone in need of help.
“We’ve been going for a week and a half now,” Jeff Wozencraft, a planner with the city’s community development department, said. “We’re trying to be a one-stop shop for everyone. We’ve had a lot of people come out and volunteer.”
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The centers also have representatives from the Iowa Department of Human Services to help with food stamp applications. Visitors can get information on FEMA applications, the Red Cross and Iowa Legal Aid.
Wozencraft said hundreds of people are stopping by every day.
“It was a lot more last week,” he said. “The need has stabilized, but there’s still a lot of people that are struggling. But it’s been inspiring to see a lot of neighbors helping neighbors during this time.”
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