Sahaba Initiative Brings Free Food, Extends Services
By Dianne Anderson
Sahaba Initiative has some great offerings for the community – despite the elephant in the room – that Millennials live at home with their parents until they’re over 30, or any number of Muslim stereotypes which bear no repeating.
About ten years ago, a group of Muslim Millennial college students came together in San Bernardino with a simple desire to bring direct services to the poor. They fed the homeless in the park, and brought counseling and health resources to the local community.
Arbazz Mohammed said their small office space with a full food pantry off 5th Street has grown from small beginnings. They started their own community garden. Through counseling and self-sufficiency services for families and individuals, they set out to fill the void in the inner-city.
Social workers are available, and if they can’t provide a service, he said they usually know where to get it.
“Our direct financial assistance program helps pay the rent and lights, the electricity, financial hardships, and emergencies. We work with our case managers to help them plan to come out of these different struggles,” he said.
Last weekend, the nonprofit distributed 100 turkeys, and provided information about their ongoing resources.
Recently, they purchased a building at their new location. Since opening a few weeks ago at their new location, he said they are broadening their reach, and the community is making their way to the other side of town. They are now located at 1887 Business Center Drive, Suite 3 in San Bernardino.
Each Saturday, the food pantry is open to all in need from noon to 2:00 p.m., along with help filling out applications for CalFresh.
“Our food pantry is growing, our direct financial assistance program is growing. We host support groups and collaborate with other nonprofits,” he said. “We also have attorneys that volunteer with us.”
They have served hundreds in the community each year without much fanfare until recognition from Assemblymember Eloise Reyes as California Nonprofit of the Year gave the program a much-needed boost of confidence.
Earlier this month, they hosted four panelists to address the intersection of faith and social change. The disussion included a Muslim, a Christian, a Catholic from the Diocese, and another of Turkish faith, and how their faith influenced their journey.
He said the goal was to talk about how various faith backgrounds have shaped their contributions to social change, and to open a greater understanding of tolerance in the community. He said participants were also for the most part familiar with each other’s local programs and outreach.
“One of the things we were really focused on within our community is that we have a diverse range of clients we serve, and people of different backgrounds,” he said.
Each year, Sahaba serves about 800 families across San Bernardino and the Inland Empire.
“We have a large African American clientele, including first-generation Muslims. The center also helps a lot of refugees, who are seeking asylum from different countries,” he said.
The program provides several adjacent services through their resource center, where they collaborate with local partners, including doctors at Al Shafir Clinic to access a wide range of health and mental health resources. Each year, they also collaborate on a free dental event, which draws a big crowd.
Because they are Muslim organization, they handle referrals from the local mosques, offering cultural competency, which their clients may find hard to access. But he said their services are open to the entire community in need.
“On average, with NA and AA, we have about 30 people coming to events. We have a lot of social events in the community, coffee nights, and things that people can get involved in with a space to help others,” he said.
Mohammed said they are attempting to buck persistent negative stereotypes, that of Muslims and Millennials.
“We are trying to shape another narrative when it comes to Islam in America. Muslims are so marginalized in a certain light, we’re going to show how we’re not. This is who we are,” he said.
For more information, call (909) 381-3002