Friday, November 25, 2016

From the desk of Jihad Shoshara, MD

I am pleased to report that the Sixteenth Annual Chicago Muslim Turkey Drive is a success. As of this writing, eight Chicago Public Schools in the Woodlawn and Chicago Lawn neighborhoods have successfully distributed 4,500 free Thanksgiving turkeys to families of their students and their communities. Another 500 turkeys are also currently being distributed to needy families by the Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN) around their central office in Chicago Lawn. All told, we have smashed records in terms of the numbers of schools helped and numbers of turkeys provided. (Our expansion of the Drive has garnered some attention; keep your eyes and ears open in the next day or two for what we hope will be some positive stories about it.)

The Drive is a simple gesture writ large; the sunny idealism of the Drive’s start has over the years been threaded with pragmatic goals meeting neighborhood needs. The results have borne fruit over three different communities. Muslim Americans (and increasingly, Americans of all faiths) are able to share the spirit of Thanksgiving with their donations of money and time. Schools are able to draw parents a little closer into the partnership of educating their children. And families in need can share in the tradition - and dignity - of a home-cooked turkey for Thanksgiving with their loved ones.

To make this possible first and foremost requires the support of people of good will LIKE YOU. Every year, the generosity of our donors, and their belief in this effort, has amazed us; this year, it left us truly staggered. Our fundraising goal was a moonshot - at times it took serious faith to believe that we could get there. While we did not actually achieve the numerical goal, we were close - close enough that saved surpluses from previous years’ drives pushed us across the finish line. Our past commitment to use any extra funds towards future drives gave us the confidence to reach for this dramatic goal, while allowing us to keep the promise that your donations go entirely to the purchase of turkeys for those in need.

Our fundraising goal was - literally - only half of the story. The other half was the inspired offer of support from the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA). The largest certifier of Halal products in America, IFANCA has been watching the slow, steady growth of the Drive over the past fifteen years - along with the sincere appreciation it has engendered. Once IFANCA understood how the schools, the local community, and the Muslim community were intersecting in a constructive effort, they moved in with the equivalent of non-profit venture capital for a share of the positive impact. Its dollar-for-dollar matching of our funds allowed us to achieve our long-standing dream of offering turkeys to all the public grade schools of the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community. The response from these schools has been exponential gratitude which IFANCA now takes, along with you, as the spiritual ‘profit’ that only kindness can generate.

The Drive has many people and institutions to thank this year. In addition to IFANCA, we were blessed to receive financial support from the following institutions:    
  • The Din Law Firm
  • The employees and Chicago office of Marcus Evans Group (thank you Reza Ispahany!)
  • The employees and office of Pediatric Health Associates
  • MURAL (Formerly The Lupe Fiasco Foundation)
  • Community Builders of Chicago

Additionally, we are grateful to our long-time supporters at Mohammed Webb Foundation. For almost a decade, MWF has encouraged its community to donate and volunteer to this effort, and its support has intensified with each drive. This year, its community produced almost 30 volunteers and thousands of dollars in donations. Even its Sunday school got into the act; using the Drive as its service project, their students alone raised enough to provide for twenty families. Following in their footsteps, the Muslim Leadership Academy Sunday School also raised funds.
We are also grateful for the new support of ICNA Relief, as well as the long-standing braun of the brothers of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons. We are physically indebted to their contribution every year, and grateful that they always answer the call to serve.

While the Drive blooms in one day, it is the result of months of planning. I am greatly indebted to the dedicated service of my co-coordinators - Sofia Shakir, Faiz Kamal, Salman Chaudry, Asma Shakir, Masuma Rasheed, and Nancy Youssef.  Masuma and Nancy joined us this year just in time to save our skins for this expansion. All of them play vital roles in cajoling, shoring, encouraging, pushing, pulling, and ultimately executing the Drive. This year, Salman deserves special thanks. A few days ago we were confronted by logistical problems that threatened to stop delivery of turkeys to some of the schools this morning. In short order, Salman organized extra trucks to deliver the remaining turkeys on time, and convinced his friend to drive along with him (Thanks Josh!). Their dedication to driving the turkeys in big trucks through little side streets and around viaducts was directly responsible for ensuring all schools got their turkeys as promised.

Finally - it is our hope that in the end, this effort leads to some benefit for all involved, no matter how momentary. I consider myself blessed to have met and worked with the amazing educators, community activists, volunteers, and donors that make this annual effort thrive. At this moment in history, it rejuvenates my faith that the world is as Hemingway wrote: “a fine place, and worth fighting for.”

Happy Thanksgiving, and peace be unto you all. 

Jihad Shoshara
Lead Coordinator, Chicago Muslim Turkey Drive 

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