ICNA Relief: Serving During the Pandemic

Published October 19, 2020

By Zawareen Zakaria

Through its numerous programs and services, ICNA Relief provides relief services for the larger American community and assists in the betterment and empowerment of people across the country. This year, in particular, such relief was especially important in light of the challenges, marked overwhelmingly by the COVID-19 pandemic. In spite of lockdowns and social distancing, COVID-19 brought people together, ultimately strengthening the bonds of humanity.

Producing Masks for Hospitals, Medical Offices, and the Elderly

Early during the pandemic, there was a shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) everywhere. With unanswered questions about the airborne transmission of the virus, everyone needed masks and healthcare workers were reusing their PPEs. The shortage led the CDC to announce mid-March, “In settings where facemasks are not available, HCP [health care providers] might use homemade masks for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort.”

ICNA Relief responded to this need. They operate 23 transitional homes across the country and their Dallas facility has an empowerment center, equipped with computers and sewing machines, to encourage residents to develop their skills and have a safe space for growth. The residents of this home who have sewing abilities took action. They joined with community members and volunteers such as Reem, a Syrian refugee who is a fashion designer who creates stunning bridalwear for a Texas boutique. They were not able to find the fabric and elastic needed to make masks due to the pandemic causing many shortages as well as many stores being closed due to the lockdown. The group, however, kept faith and instead bought high quality bed sheets, and ribbon instead of elastic, and created the bended nose section with pipe cleaners from the children’s craft section. Reem taught the volunteers and residents how to cut and sew the masks.

The volunteers then announced their project on social media and news of their work traveled quickly. They started to receive multiple calls from medical offices and hospitals. A local community member also requested masks for elderly individuals in their community who didn’t already have them. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson heard of the initiative and asked for masks for her office and staff as well. She even sent a beautiful thank you letter to the ICNA Relief DFW office. Sheikh Omar Suleiman helped deliver masks to Parkland Hospital. This project gained much traction and many people donated to this particular project while others donated to the transitional home.

Providing Relief for Native Americans

The work of ICNA Relief during the pandemic also reached the various Native American tribes who live in Arizona. COVID-19 has caused enormous food shortages at Arizona food banks. This is a dire problem across the “food desert” areas of the Arizona Native American population, especially the Navajo Nation. As the virus spread, the Navajo Nation became the epicenter of the disease in that state as the number of cases increased. ICNA Relief was able to create accessible food pantries and deliver food boxes to these tribes. They spent over $30,000 to gather essential food items such as rice, flour, oils, pasta, pasta sauce, baking powder, salt, and more. A Facebook fundraiser for water raised about $2,800, allowing them to distribute about 15 pallets, 4,050 gallons, of water to the underserved tribes. With relief needs like these, in-kind donations of resources are tremendously helpful. ICNA Relief thanks Mohammad Elengery and his wife Yomnna for lending their 54 ft. eighteen-wheeler for the large shipments. Without this resource, ICNA Relief would have spent considerable funds renting a vehicle large enough to deliver such large amounts of food and water.

Volunteers also conducted a distribution in Arizona’s White Mountains for over 173 families. These families received survival essentials and perishables like bread and fresh vegetables and fruit. There were other distributions in Yuma City to the Cocopah and Quechan tribes. Some of these distributions also included dairy products. ICNA Relief also assisted the Hualapai tribe in Valentine, Arizona and provided relief boxes for around 100 families. The vice mayor in Tempe, Arizona, Lauren Kuby, has been an avid supporter of ICNA Relief’s initiatives in these communities, even making her own Facebook fundraisers to help with funding for gas for transportation and for hygiene items for those in need. The local leadership such as the Cocopah tribal council member, Rosa Long, Quechan tribal council member, Charles R. Escalanti, and Anthony Allison from the Navajo Nation, along with Kyle Jim (a member of the Diné clan), and his sister, Bree Lameman, acted as COVID-19 relief coordinators, and they made all of these travels for distribution of relief possible.

Combatting Misinformation About COVID

ICNA Relief also worked extremely hard to combat the deluge of misinformation that coincided with the increased spreading of the coronavirus in order to best support and protect communities across the country. As a non-profit committed to serving diverse communities, ICNA Relief has produced informational pamphlets in multiple languages, containing health and safety guidelines from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Early on, before the shelter-in-place order, these pamphlets were distributed in local mosques and community centers.

Helplines and Telemedicine Services

ICNA Relief quickly saw the need of being a voice of comfort and guidance and created the ICNA Relief National Helpline. The helpline offers support in multiple languages including English, Spanish, Urdu/Hindi, Arabic, and Bangla. This enables new immigrants, refugees, and elderly non-English speaking individuals to navigate this pandemic, being able to inquire about financial assistance, unemployment, and insurance.

ICNA Relief Health Services also deployed a telemedicine line so that individuals can speak with a nurse or doctor to see if their symptoms require an ER visit or if they should just quarantine while monitoring their symptoms. ICNA Relief was thus able to lessen the burden on both emergency rooms and hospital personnel.

This pandemic comes with a surge in the need for psychological support as well. The health services team has provided therapy by phone in a number of states. ICNA Relief has free health clinics in seven cities including Mount Pleasant, SC; Anaheim, CA; Athens and Duluth, GA; Philadelphia, PA; Oklahoma City, OK; and Dallas, TX. Tele-therapy allows the clients who come to the clinics to continue their mental health treatment and support through counseling sessions over the phone.

An Overview of Services Provided

Many of the ICNA Relief branches have also distributed hot meals to ER doctors and nurses. In New York City, ICNA Relief collaborated with the Latino Muslims of New York to deliver hot meals to Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx and Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens. In Atlanta, GA, volunteers delivered more than 250 hot meals to Emory Johns Creek Hospital, and in Sacramento, CA the team delivered to Methodist Hospital.

In total, ICNA Relief, alhamdulillah, has served 885,828 individuals and 183,154 families nationwide through all its branches. Of these numbers, 357,841 children were served, as well as 51,026 elderly individuals. ICNA Relief distributed 239,204 food boxes and 104,609 hot meals. Overall, they delivered a massive amount, 9.6 million pounds, of food and groceries to those in need – a value of almost $12 million.

ICNA Relief’s telehealth services have also been widely utilized. The ICNA Relief Helpline was able to help 148 clients, and the ICNA Relief telehealth services provided a value of about $91,000 worth of services and about $200,000 worth of counseling and educational services during this past year. ICNA Relief was also able to distribute 11,636 hygiene kits nationwide at a value of about $93,000. During Ramadan ICNA Relief distributed over 13,000 food boxes, about 47,000 iftar meals, and about 3,400 toys across the country. Overall, ICNA Relief was able to aid and care for 127,590 individuals in Ramadan alone.

ICNA Relief cannot do this work without the help of our treasured volunteers. In our efforts to alleviate the shortages and suffering in the larger American community, 7,779 volunteers joined ICNA Relief and put in about 38,895 hours. This year, 2020, is by no means a usual year for Americans or for people around the world. Alhamdulillah, in the spirit of care and generosity, however, a spirit which we emulate from the example of Prophet Muhammad (s), ICNA Relief is confident that together we can keep the bonds of community, cooperation, and service strong, as we navigate these difficult times. To help with this important work, please visit

Zawareen ZakariaAuthor Sr. Zawareen Zakaria works as Digital Content Creator at ICNA Relief.

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