Looking Beyond the Obvious: Homebound Residents in DC

By: Muaaz Maksud

April 27, 2015

While hitting the snooze button on my phone alarm for the second time, I tried to remember why would I even set an alarm for 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning. As a college student and a part-time intern, Saturday and Sunday mornings are allocated for “catch-up sleep,” whatever it is that it entails. As I attempted to fall back asleep, I remembered that I had made plans to stop by the Universalist National Memorial Church and volunteer with the non-profit charity, Food for All DC. I jumped out of bed, freshened up, and made my way to the metro station as quickly as I could, recalling that their website had stated that they start at 9 a.m. sharp. Once outside, I couldn’t help but notice and be grateful that the weather finally seemed to have taken a turn away from the chilling winter cold. The streets were lively and the metro was packed on this Saturday morning. I was reminded once again that it was “Cherry Blossoms” season, and actually the weekend of the annual festival. It was certainly a beautiful sight, but one that evoked exasperation within me at times, due to how crowded Washington, DC becomes for these two weeks. Little did I know that I would be reflecting on that hurried and trivial half an hour of my morning commute once I was on my way back home after volunteering with Food for All DC. 

Food for All DC is a non-profit charity, working out of the basement of the Universalist National Memorial Church, that strives to provide food to low-income, homebound residents with high need. Through reading about the program on their website before coming to volunteer, I found out that their work is entirely volunteer-operated, with no paid staff and largely based on the help of federal and other agency grants. Generally clients and recipients are elderly citizens or handicapped individuals. Once I finally arrived at the church, a friendly man named Graeme welcomed me and guided me to the sign-in/waiver sheet and the food preparation location. Food preparation started at 9 a.m. sharp and essentially consisted of an assembly line, with sturdy paper bags being filled with assorted foods/groceries, and even magazines for the homebound residents to read in their free time. This portion was extremely effective and wrapped up in less than 20 minutes.

After a small presentation by the site manager Carmella, drivers were paired up with “navigators” to distribute the packed bags right away. Each team went out to a different part of DC to deliver the food to assigned residents. We were advised to call the residents five minutes prior to arriving at their doorsteps, in order to give them time to come to the front door as necessary. Although our first package was assigned for an elderly woman, Mrs. Jackson, a reserved teenager opened the door. She said that her grandma, Mrs. Jackson, couldn’t come to the door physically to answer the door. The teenager kindly took the bag and thanked us. I instantly thought, “Thank God Mrs. Jackson had a her granddaughter around to help her.” But what about all those elderly residents that live by themselves? What about the homebound residents that might not have anyone consistently helping them around the house?  

I recalled a hadith (prophetic saying) by the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) stating, “Those who do not show mercy to our young ones and do not realize the rights of our elders are not from us.” The Prophet is explicitly establishing the importance of elders in society, equating fulfillment of their rights with being included within the fold of “us,” the believers in Islam. In a larger context within present-day society, where there appears to be increasing neglect of the elderly and greater enrollment in retirement homes, we might not be doing everything within our capabilities to fulfill our duties towards our elderly. As I finished off my final deliveries, I was even more grateful to Food for All DC. Although it might not be able to address all the needs of elderly residents, such as providing help around the house, it serves a crucial function by delivering food for them. Food for All DC has certainly made me think about trying to recommend a similar initiative to my local mosques. These individuals that my Prophet focused on must be of great importance to society.

For me, faith is not only about belief in the unseen and acting upon what I see in front of me. It requires that I look beyond the observables, and reflect on and address even those situations that aren’t explicitly present in front of me. These homebound residents are an example of such situations. Although they are in great need of support and help, they are often forgotten because of their physical absence in society. They generally don’t get to come out on a nice warm Saturday morning, as the winter cold clears. They often don’t even get to crowd the streets of DC during Cherry Blossom season. They are often within the confines of their homes, patiently waiting for an organization like Food for All DC to deliver a bag of groceries on a Saturday morning. This volunteer experience has truly made me grateful and mindful of my opportunity and capability to fulfill the rights elders in society have upon me. I need to set alarms for 8 a.m. on Saturday mornings more frequently.  

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Looking Beyond the Obvious: Homebound Residents in DC