As coronavirus devastates lives and livelihoods, this Ramadan many people are relying on Islamic Relief more than ever. Zaheer Afzal reveals how we’re adapting our Ramadan distributions to safely provide food to almost one million people in need.

Zaheer Afzal, Seasonal Programmes Manager for Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Every year since 1984, Islamic Relief has given food to vulnerable families at Ramadan, reaching 908,000 people in the holy month last year.

It’s always a joyful occasion for the families. Some wear their best clothes or traditional attire when they come to the distribution point to collect their parcels. They’ll spend time chatting with us and exchange pleasantries, happy to be freed from worry about feeding their family during the month of fasting.

Just weeks ago, before the spectre of coronavirus, our teams around the world were looking forward to starting our Ramadan food distributions, as we do every year. Our incredible staff and volunteers love the opportunity to spend this special time in the communities we serve throughout the year.

But this Ramadan is different. It is unlike any other in the history of Islamic Relief.

Families need help, now more than ever

As coronavirus reaches communities worldwide, our Ramadan food parcels are needed more desperately than ever. Many people will have fallen sick or lost loved ones to COVID-19. Countless families have seen their incomes plummet or disappear altogether, as work dries up and lockdowns prevent them from earning a living.

The holy month is still a time of joy, as we spend the blessed month drawing closer to God. But it is also a time of great anxiety and suffering – especially in the poorest households. Already on the edge of survival, they are least able to cope with this public health emergency and desperately need help.

Islamic Relief will not fail them, insha’Allah.

Our team in Lebanon packs food parcels for distribution.

We have been hard at work to adapt our Ramadan distributions to ensure we can still get food parcels to the families that need them – and that we do so safely without endangering our staff or the people and communities we serve.

It is a massive undertaking because the situation is different in each of the 31 countries covered by our Ramadan programme this year.

In some countries there are no restrictions on movement; others are starting to tentatively ease restrictions while others still – such as Indonesia, Kenya, and Lebanon – remain in full or partial lockdown.

We’re delivering food safely

Islamic Relief is working closely with the authorities in each country to make sure we adhere to their COVID-19 guidelines. Fortunately, in most countries we are able to distribute food packs while observing social distancing.

Usually we distribute food packs in the first 10 days of Ramadan but this year we’re doing things differently to avoid generating large gatherings of people. Our distribution period is being extended so it is spread across 4-6 weeks – with more dates, we can have fewer people attending at a time. We’re also offering people time slots for people to collect their parcels and encouraging them to come alone to avoid overcrowding.

In countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina we are taking food parcels direct to people’s doors whilst in places like Kosova we are working with national postal services so food parcels are delivered directly to families at home. And where this is not possible, such as in Ethiopia and Sudan, we’re issuing vouchers so families can collect food from the suppliers with whom we’ve made arrangements.

Wearing personal protective equipment, Islamic Relief drop off food parcels for some families in Kosova.

Your donations are reaching the most vulnerable

In these difficult times I’m inspired by the continued generosity of our supporters who are allowing us to reach people’s homes, across countries and continents, to help those less fortunate during the holy month.

Thanks to our big-hearted donors, we’re adapting to the challenges that COVID-19 is throwing at us.

And, crucially, we’re doing so safely. Our priority is and always will be the welfare of those we serve and our dedicated staff and volunteers.

Help Islamic Relief ease the suffering of some of the world’s most vulnerable families during the holy month. Donate to our Ramadan Appeal now.