Nonprofit Women for Afghan Women distributes groceries ahead of Ramadan

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The nonprofit in Fresh Meadows had 140 boxes filled with groceries ready to be picked up on Wednesday.
Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

Women for Afghan Women(WAW), a nonprofit organization based in Fresh Meadows, held a food distribution event on Wednesday, March 6 ahead of the holy month of Ramadan. 

The organization distributed 140 large boxes filled with shelf stable groceries such as rice, oats, pasta, oil and dry dates. The Ramadan distribution event coincided with food distribution out of their center in Alexandria, Virginia, which opened two years ago. Across both sites, the grocery filled boxes donated by the nonprofit Islamic Relief USA will feed approximately 700 individuals. 

“We have gotten a lot of new evacuees from Afghanistan, as well as a lot of asylum seekers in the city, for whom this is their first Ramadan here. The majority of them do not have anything,” said Naheed Samadi Bahram, the U.S Country Director of WAW. “We want to make sure that they feel safe and have something to eat.”

It marked the first time that WAW held a food distribution event. Their other distribution events have focused on providing clothing, personal hygiene essentials and household items for refugees that arrived from Afghanistan. And in the past they have also handed out grocery store gift cards for new arrivals, which they found gives people a sense of autonomy during the resettlement process. 

“It’s in our religion to give back to the community, to share food, especially during Ramadan for those who cannot afford it themselves. And these food boxes will allow the families to prepare the food the way that they want,” added Bahram during the distribution.  “We reached out to those we know do not have food during this time.” 

The center offers a range of services such as ESL classes at the nearby Queens College, applying for services and legal support such as family reunification and citizenship applications. All their services are pro bono, including newly added mental health services, and a youth leadership summer program for anyone between the ages of 14 to 18. 

Naheed Samadi Bahram, U.S Country Director of WAW, splits her time between the Queens headquarters and the center’s second location in Virginia.Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

According to Bahram, the center’s work tripled following the 2021 takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, 20 years after they were ousted by U.S troops. It resulted in the evacuation of over 100,000 people who were resettled in the United States given dire conditions, especially repressive conditions for women and girls. 

Today, WAW serves over a thousand individuals out of their Fresh Meadows center every year. Their staff of sixteen speak seven languages among them including Dari, Pashto, Urdu, Arabic and Spanish. Despite their name, they serve all populations that can benefit from their services, not just Afghani women. 

The organization primarily relies on federal and state grants to fund their initiatives, as well as fundraising campaigns conducted online to raise money from individual donors. 

“People find their way to us when they need us,” said Bahram  who started as a volunteer for WAW in 2008 and climbed the ranks to become the nationwide director of WAW in 2020. “But we also make sure that we are trying to make it as easy for them as possible.”

Since this was their first year distributing food, they kept it small and just promoted the offering to their network. But in the future, WAW hopes to host larger food distributions that are open to the public.