Thanksgiving — just the mention of the word conjures images of homes bustling with family and happy voices, and an endless spread including roasted turkey, warm bread rolls, pistachio Jello moulds and cranberry sauce. For those with younger kids, it’s also a time for school plays about the pilgrims surviving the MayFlower and bonding with Native Americans over food. But how often have we used Thanksgiving as an occasion to give thanks?

“Therefore remember Me, I will remember you, And be thankful to Me, and do not be ungrateful to Me.” (Quran 2:152)

“And He gives you all that you ask for. But if you count the favors of God, never will you be able to number them. Verily, man is given up to injustice and ingratitude.” (Quran 14:34)

From the Islamic perspective, one of the best ways of giving thanks whether to the Almighty or our friends, community and loved ones, is by giving back. It is about sharing the opportunities that we have been blessed with. Often we inadvertently stay within the Muslim bubble, just donating to or serving the mosque or Islamic school. However, just as the Prophet Muhammad* was sent as a Mercy to Mankind, and not just to Muslims, we too must broaden our horizons.

“Who spend [in the cause of God] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and God loves the doers of good.” (Quran- 3:134)

When we read this verse, the first thing that comes to mind is giving thanks by giving a monetary donation. However, “spending from that which you love” is a much wider concept. In this super-busy age, one of our most prized commodities is our time. Sometimes, writing a check is easy. Taking time out to serve the needy is much harder. Use to identify opportunities in your area.

Give Food

According to the 2012 Hunger in America report, 17.2 million households, around one in seven, were “food insecure”, the highest number ever recorded in the United States. There were 46.9 million people in poverty — the largest number in the 52 years of published poverty rates.

“And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive, [Saying], “We feed you only for the countenance of God. We wish not from you reward or gratitude.” (Quran – 76:8-9)

The Greater Chicago Food Depository distributed 42 million pounds of food in 2011, serving more than 90,000 families a week. Besides donating food to them, you can volunteer year round to repack bulk purchases into individual sizes, loading, order checking and much more.

IFANCA’s Sabeel Food Pantry in Chicago has also been providing volunteer opportunities since 2003 as they reach out to the needy, regardless of ethnicity. For the last several years, Sabeel Food Pantry and the American Muslims for Activism and Learning (AMAL) have joined hands to provide turkeys to the less fortunate on Thanksgiving.

In 2011, AMAL & Sabeel Food Pantry raised pledges for and distributed more than 600 turkeys to needy families of the children at Emmett Till Academy in Chicago.

“Despite a few hurdles, the distribution process was fluid,” said Dr. Jihad Shoshara about the Turkey Drive in 2011. “A human chain of men moved 55-pound boxes of frozen turkeys from the delivery truck into the school’s auditorium, where they were then wheeled by gurney to the stage and stacked, ready to be distributed. Every parent (this is not hyperbole – every parent) expressed their gratitude for this simple gift.”

Ed Pilolla has witnessed the impact of poverty as a volunteer at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker Soup Kitchen since 2006. “Everyone who is served at the kitchen is called a guest. Nearly 1,000 guests are served daily.” The last days of the month are the most frenetic, he says, as families run out of government assistance and wait for welfare checks that arrive at the start of the following month. “It’s a busy kitchen with hard working people,” Pilolla says of the volunteers. Extra hands are always welcome to help make and serve meals.


Start Young, Give Time

Zakat Foundation ( in Delaware invests in the local community by programs that vary from teaching ESL to positive parenting classes and feeding the needy. Volunteers ages 4-14 can help too. In the Environmental Group project youth and adults plant, nurture and harvest an array of vegetables as part of a community garden.

“There are three main benefits of this project,” said Murat Kose, East Coast Program Director at Zakat Foundation. “One, our youth are learning about gardening and where their food comes from. Two, they are helping people in need and three, they are part of a visibly strong dawah (outreach) project as Muslims gather at a prominent place like the Delaware Food Bank to donate the food they grow.”

Kose encourages the youth to take a leadership role in the programs. They present at fundraising events, and even submit progress reports to learn how organizations work.


Give Up Comfort

If there’s one thing that people are very protective about, it’s their sleep. It takes sleeping outside on a winter’s night in Chicago to realize that not everyone has a comfortable bed and 500-thread count sheets to snuggle into. That is what Glen Ellyn, IL based Bridge Communities’ ( ‘Sleep out Saturday’ is all about. An annual event, on the first Saturday night of November, more than 70 faith communities and 1,500 multi-generational do-gooders sleep outside in the cold, asking friends and family to sponsor their participation.

‘Sleep out Saturday’ is a game changer in the lives of homeless families but makes a lasting impact on more than those in need. Mark Milligan, Co-Founder and Director of Donor Relations sleeps out in his front yard but others sleep in their cars, in cardboard boxes, sleeping bags and tents or in the forest preserve. “It shouldn’t be like a camping trip,” Milligan said. “It needs to be a little uncomfortable for the point to get across.”

The event raises awareness that homelessness exists nearly everywhere — including in relatively prosperous DuPage County. Second, it creates empathy as to what it feels like to be homeless. After all, temperatures can range from anywhere between 22-50 degrees Fahrenheit and it could rain too. Finally, the event moves people to action, raising finances to alleviate others’ problems.

“We were looking for an activity that spoke to our mission,” said Mr. Milligan. “We could have raised funds at a black tie gala at a fancy country club but Sleep Out Saturday, now in its ninth year, is in sync with our mission.”

According to the 2011 World Giving Index, the United States is the most generous country in the world. What will you give up to give thanks and fulfill your religious obligation and patriotic duty? We would love to hear from you.


Give Up Comfort

According to Bridge Communities in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, nearly 50,000 households are living in poverty and are just one paycheck away from homelessness. Bridge Communities most frequently serves mothers and their children, including members of the Muslim community. Children under five comprise 30 percent of those without a roof over their heads.

Can’t sleep outside? You can sponsor a friend who will or donate to the cause by check or online. As importantly, volunteers are needed year round to mentor homeless families as they return to school for more marketable skills, learn to their manage finances, heal from abuse and more.


Soup Kitchens:

1. Los Angeles Catholic Worker Soup Kitchen

821 East 6th St., Los Angeles, CA 90021

213.614.9615 Group Info: 323 267-8789


2. Magnificat House

3300 Caroline Street, Houston, TX 77004



3. Meat Loaf Kitchen

Cardinal Spellman Center, 137 East 2nd Street, New York, NY



Food Pantries:

1. Sabeel Food Pantry

3031 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL 60618



2. Greater Chicago Food Depository

4100 W. Ann Lurie Place, Chicago, IL 60632

773.247.3663 or


3. San Francisco Food Bank

900 Pennsylvania Ave., San Francisco, CA 94107



4. Capital Area Food Bank

645 Taylor Street, NE, Washington, DC 20017



5. American Red Cross Food Pantry

4800 Harry Hines Blvd., Dallas, TX 75235


About the Writer: Kiran Ansari is a Chicago-based writer and editor with more than 12 years of experience and bylines in more than 30 publications. She can be reached via LinkedIn and at