Welcomes all those in need
Back when the Islamic Center of Long Island (ICLI) was a humble brick house, its leaders were dreaming of a larger complex—and a food pantry.
Thirty-five-plus years later, the house has long been replaced by the sprawling center on Brush Hollow Road in Westbury. And the other dream came true earlier this fall, when elected officials joined ICLI leaders to officially welcome its Community Pantry.
It is situated in the basement of a house at 11 Jamie Dr. owned by the ICLI. The entrance is behind the house and reachable from the complex’s parking lots.
In conjunction with the opening, the youth members at the center put together 526 boxes of food dedicated to the memory of George Floyd, the Black man killed by a police officer in Minneapolis this past May. The 526, according to ICLI Board of Trustees President Habeeb Ahmed, translates to the seconds that officer Derek Chauvin reportedly pressed on Floyd’s neck, eventually killing him. Chauvin was later charged with unintentional second degree murder.
Ahmed told the Westbury Times that the youth (with adult help) spent many weeks and worked hard preparing the boxes. They will be distributed to area churches which operate food pantries of their own.
Speaking before a crowd in the large courtyard, Ahmed noted that the food pantry was the culmination of many years of effort. The ICLI has worked with many food pantries, including those at St. Brigid’s Church in Westbury and the Neighborhood House in Westbury, as well as St. Aidan’s in Williston Park and several synagogues.
“The pantry is a dream come true for me,” said Isma Chaudhry, chair of the ICLI’s board of trustees. She went on to relate traveling with Ahmed on missions of mercy through the Interfaith Nutrition Network. She would ask him if the ICLI would ever be able to have a pantry of its own.
Ahmed’s invariable answer was “Insha’Allah”—”If Allah wills it or God willing.”
Chaudhry made a distinction of the Koranic phrase between the cultural and the spiritual.
“Brother Habeeb is such a blessed person, it was his word to God’s ear,” Chaudry joked.
She went on to praise Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro for helping with the complex grant application. The county offered the money to pantries, made possible from federal coronavirus pandemic relief funds.
“Thank you, Mayor Cavallaro, for your office, your support and your guidance,” Chaudhry said.
“I was taken aback, when we started these conversations, by the actual needs of the community,” Cavallaro observed. “
Cavallaro said he felt strongly about hunger in the community. He recalled preparing food boxes as a boy to help his mother Johanna, who co-founded the parish outreach at St. Brigid’s that eventually resulted in the food pantry at the Roman Catholic church. The pandemic, he noted, had exacerbated the hunger problem.
He told the Westbury Times, “[St. Brigid’s] program was started with food baskets at Christmas and Thanksgiving. The outreach office is now called Casa Mary Johanna, for Mary Goode And Johanna Cavallaro. Mrs. Goode worked with my mother on this in the beginning. [The late] Joan Echausse of course took over the outreach sometime after my mother died and expanded it and ran it for many years.”
“I’m really happy to be here on behalf of the village and really happy to facilitate the funding,” Cavallaro told the assembled.
Westbury Trustee Beaumont Jefferson said he got involved with the food pantry at the Westbury United Methodist Church. Like others, he had not been aware of the extent of hunger in the community.
“It took a pandemic to wake me up,” he admitted, and urged his listeners to “give back in some way, and not just in money, but in your time. And be aware that it is happening.”
“One thing I’ve experienced during this pandemic is the greater good in people, helping those less fortunate,” said Senator Anna Kaplan (D–Great Neck), who represents the district.
She noted that she was a frequent visitor, and praised the ICLI’s charitable efforts.
“May your needs and the needs of the community become less and less, but God bless you for having this place, and God bless you for helping out,” Kaplan concluded.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said she was grateful to the center “for really standing up during the worst days of the pandemic,” mentioning its personal protection equipment drive and a food drive to aid first responders and health care workers.
During May and June, Chaudhry had stated, the ICLI had distributed about 1,000 warm meals per week.
“Any time I’m speaking to members of the community the question always is, ‘What can I do, what can we do to help?’ And I’m really grateful for that,” the executive said. “This food pantry is a small sample of one of the many things that the community is doing.”
Curran related that she had been at the ICLI twice in the past month for a Census 2020 drive and COVID-19 testing, and had seen many people from the larger community, in addition to the center members.
“They’ve come to see you as a trusted resource,” she told the ICLI leaders.
“The cliché of 2020 is ‘We’re all in this together.’ But it’s true. We swim or sink together,” Curran concluded. “And I’m incredibly grateful for ICLI and the Muslim community at large for their generosity and for stepping up for their neighbors.”
Ahmed, during his talk, noted that the surrounding community might seem wealthy, but “we do have pockets of people who need help. And the ICLI [provides help] in a dignified way.”
In the winter, he noted, the ICLI will do a blanket drive and distribute them to temples and churches.
The pantry will be open on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“It is open to one and all,” Ahmed said.
Dr. Mufti Farhan, executive director of the ICLI, related how the Prophet Muhammad, when he entered the city of Medina, spoke to a crowd and gave them five pieces of advice, including the injunctions to spread peace and love and feed the people and share with others.
Farhan welcomed the public officials and other community leaders, including county Legislator Arnie Drucker, Town of North Hempstead Clerk Wayne Wink and Councilman Peter Zuckerman, state Senator Kevin Thomas, Bishop Lionel Harvey of the First Baptist Church of Westbury, Westbury District Board of Education President Robert Troiano, Leslie Davis, president of the Westbury chapter of the NAACP, and Farrah Mozawalla, executive director of Nassau County Office of Asian American Affairs.