When Hamdy Mansour knocked on doors with trays of whole roasted turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, he heard two questions: Is it halal and is it free?
The answer to both was yes.
The Thanksgiving meal was halal, meaning it was prepared according to Islamic guidelines, and it was free, courtesy of donors and sponsors.
Mansour and other volunteers went door to door for a Thanksgiving meal program that brings American tradition to the homes of newly settled refugees. This year, recipients included families who came from Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrew forces over the summer, ending a two-decade war and sparking hurried evacuations.
“I know it’s not much,” Mansour said Tuesday between deliveries. “It’s just food, but it lets them know, if you need anything there are people here that care.”
The Thanksgiving program was started two years ago by Cornerstone Counseling Marriage & Family Intervention, a Princeton-based nonprofit, to support families in need, said Founding Director Suzy Ismail. In all, 137 families will have meals delivered to their homes for a weeklong distribution that started Tuesday and ends Nov. 30.
“We want to make sure our most vulnerable communities have a sense of connection and uplift them on Thanksgiving, so they feel that they are part of the community as well,” said Suzy Ismail, founding director of Cornerstone.
Families get a halal 10-pound turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and vegetables cooked at Douglass Pizzeria and Grill in Franklin Park, owned by Mansour, Ismail’s husband. Mansour and his staff cook the meals, while volunteers help to pack and deliver them.
During the week, they visited homes in Elizabeth, Jersey City, Bayonne, Newark, Roselle and Jackson. Other meals were scheduled to be taken to the Islamic Social Services of South Jersey on Sunday to distribute to local families in need.
Cornerstone had a Zoom call with clients and sent WhatsApp messages in their native languages to explain Thanksgiving – how families get together to share a turkey meal and give thanks. Many had heard about the U.S. holiday, but are experiencing it for the first time.
The recipients included refugees from Syria and Iraq and people who fled Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrew and the Taliban retook control. The U.S. and its international partners evacuated 124,000 Afghans since mid-August, including individuals who faced risk because they worked for American forces.
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So far, about 73,000 Afghans have come to the U.S., while others remain in third countries, according to the U.S. State Department. Resettlement agencies are relocating hundreds to housing in New Jersey.
Cornerstone has a refugee support program, counseling individuals who may have endured trauma and are trying to adjust to life in a new country. The nonprofit started food distribution to help local families during the COVID pandemic and has partnered with Islamic Relief USA to give out thousands of meals during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The food program fits into Cornerstone's mission of mental and emotional wellness, Ismail said. Some refugees may be dealing with depression or anxiety and the notion of cooking a large meal or visiting a food pantry can feel overwhelming.
She hopes the Thanksgiving meals bring them comfort. “The idea of bringing meals cooked from a restaurant really helps us to elevate giving with a sense of dignity and supports a theme of constantly uplifting others,” Ismail said.
Hannan Adely is a diversity reporter covering Arab and Muslim communities for NorthJersey.com, where she focuses on social issues, politics, bias and civil rights. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Thanksgiving meals delivered to Afghan refugees in New Jersey