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Muslim-run food pantry provides aid to homeless

Student manages store with goal to give back

Contributing Writer

Published: Monday, May 28, 2012

Updated: Monday, May 28, 2012 16:05

Rustic, foreign art hangs on display across racks of sequined ethnic clothing, vintage leather shoes and polished kitchenware at Muslim Social Services. The thrift store and food pantry is tucked away in a plaza of warehouses on Goldenrod Road.

Teresa Rodriguez, a UCF junior, manages the thrift store on her own. After converting to Islam in 2005 through a local imam, she took a warm liking to the Muslim community in Orlando and wished to give back as much as possible.

She balances managing the store with her studies in public and nonprofit management at UCF. Though MSS has a few volunteers, Rodriguez said she hopes for more to participate soon.

“Sometimes people will come in with a truck full of clothing,” Rodriguez said, pointing to the back of the building where a mass of accumulated piles of clothing packed in overstretched trash bags waited to be donated or sold.

All proceeds from the thrift store pay the bills to keep the office running; the rest of the office depends solely on donations.

The organization functions as a department under the Islamic Society of Central Florida, a nonprofit organization that raises Islamic awareness in Central Florida along with other locations.

“We’ve donated 300 to 400 pounds of clothing to the Coalition for the Homeless,” Rodriguez said.

Every other month, MSS feeds and clothes the homeless at ISCF mosques downtown.

MSS also operates the Muslim Healing Clinic on the first Saturday of each month. Partnered with the Orange County Health Department, the clinic provides free medical referrals and health services to those in need.

The organization has evolved from a little food cabinet nestled in ISCF’s clinic to a full office space obtained last March due to increased demand for aid in the community.

“The food pantry has triple-sized,” MSS director Jill Thayer said. “We used to operate on one cabinet, and now we have three refrigerators and more than one cabinet [in the new office].”

Though it is an Islamic organization, MSS aids people of all religious denominations. The organization is registered with United Way’s Interfaith School Turnaround Project, whose goal is to provide volunteers from diverse backgrounds of faith to mentor children in disadvantaged schools.

“In Islam, we have to take care of our neighbors as well,” Thayer said.

MSS’s diverse partnerships and services reflect the progress made from when it was first established 12 years ago.

“The need was just so apparent in the community. People would come to us saying ‘no one else could help us — what can you do?’” Thayer said.

As a registered food pantry, MSS is eligible to pick up items from Second Harvest Food Bank for only 18 cents per pound.

“People don’t realize that even if they just donate $10 per month, it is such a significant amount,” Thayer said. “We just got 50 pounds of meat for only $7.”

In addition to providing clothing and food, donations to MSS help the organization run programs for individuals having difficulty reaching self-sufficiency. Programs offered include life skills and educational workshops, employment assistance counseling and car donation services.

For more information about MSS and its activities, call 407-250-5822 or email socialservices@iscf.org.

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