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Group feeds 70 area families

Nearly 70 families in the region received fresh meat, produce and groceries through a concerted effort of community organizations in the Heart of Virginia Thursday, May 14.

The “Boxes of Blessings” distribution event was headed by A&J Consulting LLC, an area community engagement and outreach agency located in the Farmville area and in collaboration with the Islamic Center of Prince Edward County and The Fresh Boyz Club.

The distribution took place at the Farmville Holiday Inn Express & Suites.

The boxes were intended to be all-inclusive, containing fresh produce and healthy foods, considering dietary restrictions held by some members of the community and ensuring that items did not have pork or beef byproducts.

“Faith communities are holding times of celebration and holy observation during the COVID-19 pandemic,” A&J Consulting President Jill Ahmad said.

Ramadan is currently being celebrated and observed by those in the Muslim community between April 23 and May 23.

Each day during Ramadan, communities fast from food throughout the day, gathering together and breaking fast at sundown. Like Passover and Easter, observing Ramadan has been affected due to the coronavirus.

“It saddened me how the celebration of Passover and Easter had been affected by the pandemic and now Ramadan. Ramadan too is a time of communal eating, doing good deeds, and prayer,” Ahmad said.

Concerned about the canceling of community gatherings and the struggles people have experienced due to COVID-19, and worried that people may not have food to provide for their families, she and A&J Vice President, Alanna Rivera, decided to spearhead an event that will help get groceries and other items to all families in need.

The goal was to fill 50 boxes. Through the initial collaboration and support of the Islamic Center and the Fresh Boyz Club, word spread and members of the community came from around the region to donate groceries and non-perishable foods. Approximately 70 boxes were filled.

No one who received boxes needed to leave their vehicles. Volunteers, wearing masks and practicing social distancing, packaged the boxes, greeted people and distributed the boxes.

Each box contained two chickens (100 chickens were purchased from Petra Halal Food in Richmond), packages of rice, beans, canned vegetables as well as fresh fruits and vegetables (donated by FACES Food Pantry), non-perishable food items, boxes of cakes/ cookie mixes for dessert, and much more.

Each family received a gift bag full of goodies and literature provided by approximately a dozen local community resource providers like STEPS Inc, Farmville Cares, PAPSA, Piedmont Senior Resources and LOC Family Services. Gifts included incense from Kenny’s Health food Emporium, Medjooli Dates, candies and thanks to Tyrensia Braxton, homemade hand sanitizer for children.

“We wanted to do our part and help create a virtual ‘breaking of bread.’ It was important to make sure each box contained a complete meal from the community for the community,” Ahmad said, adding that in the event grocery stores experience shortages of food items due to COVID-19, families in the region would have the supplies they need.

Volunteers Tuere Davis, Kalimah Patricia Carter and Chris Cheatham, director of catering at Longwood University, provided donations and assistance with food handling and distribution, TeOnnna Robertson of Twisted Talent Photography provided photography, and Kenny Mascetti managed traffic. The Fresh Boyz Club were instrumental in the safe and speedy distribution of boxes and gifts.

“We love being a part of events that serve all people in our communities,” Louis Gould, president of Fresh Boyz Club, said. “Just being able to put smiles on so many people’s faces and make their day is a feeling like no other. We love spreading positivity in our community, especially in times like this. Working with A&J Consulting is always great. We are not a team, we are family. We feed off each other’s energy and always come up with creative things when we collaborate.”

This community event received outstanding support from local businesses, non-profits and individuals. Walmart, Southside Electric Cooperation, Letterpress Communications, Kappa Rho Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Royal Jewelz Social Club, Fresh Boys Club, LOC Family Services, Farmville Cares, We Understand Youth  were among the organizations that provided sponsorship for the event.

The Islamic Center of Prince Edward, Johns Memorial Episcopal Church, and members of the Baháʼí faith, as well as other faith communities, provided financial donations and supplies.

“The Boxes of Blessings event was a greatly appreciated community sharing that A&J spearheaded in support of the Islamic Center of Prince Edward,” Islamic Center member Beverly Abdus-Sabur said.   “Reaching neighbors across the Virginia Piedmont was of immeasurable benefit as we shared our special Ramadan spirit during these challenging times. We sincerely wish the best to all of our neighbors as we move forward to our new normal in peace & harmony.”

The Virginia Children’s Book Festival donated children’s books. The Longwood Center for the Visual Arts donated elementary and middle school level worksheets and art activities for children. Area Gospel Singer Shelley Mays-Couch donated CDs of her newly released Gospel single. For those who celebrate Ramadan, Qurans were gifted, though the event was not intended to highlight one particular faith.

“The Qurans we received were a part of an annual Holy Quran drive, organized by my friend Aziza Muhammad,” Ahmad said. “Twenty-five of the 100 Qurans donated from around the country were sent to us to share.”

Rivera and Ahmad said those who distributed the boxes, as well as community members who received the boxes, were from diverse backgrounds. The program was not developed, nor meant for one particular group of people. The boxes of blessing were for anyone and everyone who needed it.

The acts of giving by the community represents a beloved community, a community that intentionally listens to one another’s needs and seeks to meet them, Rivera said.

“Beloved community transcends race, religion, ethnicity and class,” Rivera said. “It’s bigger than our egos, our titles and our annual earnings. It’s more important than the house we live in and the car we drive, because the beloved community takes care of itself and all of its inhabitants.”

“We cannot do it without everyone,” Ahmad said about supporting one another in the community. “Relationships are everything.”

“The support was broad, heartfelt, genuine, necessary and well received,” Rivera said. “It was beautiful to be a part of and even more beautiful to see it from conception to completion in just two weeks. It’s telling to me of the communities’ need, desire and readiness to be more unified, to exemplify a beloved community.”

To learn more about the event, contact Ahmad and Rivera at (434) 414-1761 or (434) 414-1771. Follow A&J Consulting-Community Engagement and Outreach Services LLC on Facebook for updates on future community events.