The Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California is a community organization in Oakland, California whose primary mission is creating a dynamic space for diverse perspectives on Islam, and celebrating the breadth of that religion’s art and culture.
With this rich tradition comes a core respect for social responsibility and the need to connect with the surrounding community and celebrate the human rights of all. They do this not only through educational events and community outreach programs, but also through initiatives to provide aid to individuals struggling in the local community.
Another Look was invited specifically to take part in distributing 1,000 sleeping bags to homeless individuals in the San Francisco Bay Area.
OUR DAY WITH THE ISLAMIC CULTURAL CENTER OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
Hormoz Mogharei is on the board of directors for the Center, and is also the principal of the Farsi language school that operates there. The idea of distributing 1,000 sleeping bags came to him one evening when he was on Facebook and began to notice how many people were responding to the problems of homelessness by saying “I will pray for them,” or “we hope that God will keep them warm.”
Hormoz decided that wasn’t enough, and ordered 1,000 sleeping bags right then.
He had four points he wanted to communicate:
- That this was an initiative of the Islamic Cultural Center, and that he wanted the world to know this partly for the sake of his "friend," the President.
- That Americans must do charitable work. This country gives all who live here so much opportunity, and so it is the duty of everyone to give back to others.
- That the top priority is to get the sleeping bags to people who need them directly, and not to a shelter that might put them in storage or distribute other ways.
- Prayers alone aren’t enough. Sometimes we have to get angry about the problems around us, and act directly to change them.
The group of volunteers was an eclectic mix of regular participants at the center and a network of friends of friends, including a volunteer who drove in from Sacramento just for the occasion. We hauled dozens of massive boxes up from the Center’s basement and loaded them into the trunks and backseats of the volunteer’s cars. Then we headed out to overpasses and open spaces in both Oakland and San Francisco to distribute the sleeping bags.
It is unbelievable how quickly we went through hundreds of bags.
We would walk up to a cluster of tents and ask if anyone was in, and if anyone needed sleeping bags. Then we would hand them over, hustling to reassure everyone that we had enough. Most of our interactions were brief—a thank-you and a wish that everyone would stay warm and safe. Some people were eager to send us to camps where friends of theirs were staying, and to give ideas about where else to go.
Each time, the passing of an essential and possibly life-saving item was a beautiful and brief hope that this city and this world can be better: that we can share resources, support one another, and get through the winter OK.
One woman told us it was like Christmas. A man showed us that he had been collecting sweatshirts in the hope of creating a bed for the night. Everyone was grateful that the rain was holding off for now.
Ours was a limited mission for the day. We were not building long relationships, and we were not gathering personal stories (and for these reasons, we as Another Look took fewer photos so as to not make people feel uncomfortable).
This is what Hormoz envisioned in the face of a crisis: taking action.