An estimated 755,400 people in metro Atlanta and north Georgia turn to food pantries and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families each year, according to national nonprofit Feeding America.
To combat the hunger crisis in the region and provide warm, healthy meals to families in need this Thanksgiving, more than 500 Ismaili Muslims ages 8 and older came together Sunday at their house of prayer in Norcross to assemble 80,000 meals.
The Ismaili Muslims, part of the Shiite branch of Islam, are a global, multi-ethnic community with members from all over the world, including Central Asia, the Middle East, South Asia, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and North America.
There are approximately 20 million Ismaili Muslims around the world, according to the community’s website.
Ismailis believe that the Prophet Muhammad was the last and final prophet of Allah and that after his death, the prophet’s cousin, Hazrat Ali, became the first Imam (or spiritual leader).
This year, Prince Karim Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, is celebrating 60 years of spiritual leadership and service.
More than 60 years ago, the Aga Khan founded the Aga Khan Development Network, a web of private, non-denominational development agencies across the globe aimed at empowering communities in need through social, cultural and economic development for all citizens, regardless of gender, origin or religion.
In 2017, he has received multiple awards for his work in global service, including the United Nations Foundation’s Champion for Global Change Award in October and the Asia Society’s prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this month.
In honor of the 60-year milestone, the Aga Khan Council for the Southeastern United States teamed up with the Atlanta Community Food Bank and Feeding Children Everywhere for Sunday’s massive service initiative.
Council communications coordinator Farida Nurani told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that in addition to the 80,000 assembled meals, the council donated $25,000 to help with the initiative’s logistics and supplies for the meals.
Though the event was marketed as “60 thousand meals for 60 years of Imamat” to honor the Aga Khan, volunteers and their friends exceeded the goal by 20,000 meals.
“The Ismaili Muslim community has a tradition of volunteerism and giving back to the community, which resonates well with Gwinnett County’s commitment to making a difference,” Charlotte Nash, Gwinnett County chairperson, said at the event.
According to Kyle Waide, CEO of the Atlanta Food Bank, the organization will be giving 70 million pounds of food to 750,000 people this year.
Sunday’s event was one of more than 15 organized each year under the council’s service platform, Ismaili Community Engaged in Responsible Volunteering, or I-CERV.
I-CERV gives Ismaili Muslims the chance to collaborate with various organizations and communities in an effort to build bridges and improve their communities, a major tenet of the 1,400-year tradition of Shiite Muslim values.