A Time for Community

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For a second year, Muslims around the world are now celebrating the holy month of Ramadan under the unusual restrictions created by the pandemic. This is a month when the observant fast from dawn to dusk, as a reminder that the material world is temporary and to focus on the spiritual. The usual gatherings in mosques and public spaces and with loved ones are impossible for many families this year. COVID-19 cases have surged to new heights in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan in recent months, even as people in many wealthier nations are feeling more hopeful as mass vaccination campaigns ramp up.

Worse, the restrictions necessitated by the coronavirus have led to new economic hardships for many who can least afford it. Poverty in the West Bank likely doubled last year. In Gaza, 64% of people are now impoverished. At the same time, international aid from many governments has been falling.

As longtime Anera supporters know, every year during Ramadan we assemble food parcels with an array of pantry essentials for hungry families. In Gaza, we’re doing things a little differently this year. Instead of parcels, we will be providing food assistance vouchers to 1,000 vulnerable families. With support from Islamic Relief USA, we will serve a total of 5,400 people. The vouchers are redeemable at local shops, giving families the freedom to buy the food items that are most appropriate for their needs. One food voucher for a family in Gaza costs $70, allowing them to purchase groceries to prepare nutritious iftar meals — when Muslims break their fast at sunset — throughout the month.

According to the UN, the unemployment rate in Gaza is the highest in the world. These vouchers will help keep local markets in business, which means access to quality foods at reasonable prices and jobs for those who live in the community. 

In Lebanon, soaring inflation has become an additional burden to families struggling to make ends meet. Since Ramadan last year, the cost of a typical iftar meal has tripled. Fights break out over a bottle of milk or a loaf of bread. Samar El Yassir, Anera’s country director in Lebanon, says “We’ve been through years of civil war, and yet I still haven’t seen it this bad.”

All of this makes distributing food parcels extra important this Ramadan. The unstable currency makes vouchers unviable in Lebanon. Instead, Anera is providing a food parcel and hygiene kit to 1,050 vulnerable families. $80 allows us to deliver a food parcel to a vulnerable family living in a refugee camp in Beirut or Bekaa. We fill the food parcels with foods that appeal to local palates and ensure nutritional diversity, such as rice, beans, dates, tuna, vegetables and spices like za’atar. In addition to the food package that will feed families for one month, Anera will also distribute a household disinfection and hygiene kit to each family so that they have the necessary supplies to stay safe during the pandemic.

Too many need no reminder of what it feels like to go hungry this Ramadan. Breaking the fast to enjoy a healthy, filling meal means so much to families in need. We are grateful that Anera’s generous community of supporters will help struggling families have a more festive and joyful Ramadan.

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