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During Ramadan, North Texas nonprofits work to ensure refugee families get enough to eat

After giving away all of the bags of food packed by volunteers at DFW Refugee Outreach Services, the local nonprofit partnered with Islamic Relief USA
Christopher Connelly
After giving away all of the bags of food packed by volunteers at DFW Refugee Outreach Services, the local nonprofit partnered with Islamic Relief USA to get more donated groceries to hand out.

Dozens of people lined up in a nondescript office building in northeast Dallas on Wednesday. The families spilled out of the doorway of DFW Refugee Outreach Services’ small offices and down the empty hallway, chatting quietly in a handful of languages and trying to keep squirming children entertained.

They waited patiently to pick up boxes of groceries packed by volunteers to make sure every family has enough food to break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

“We still have so many new families, and so many families are really in need this year,” said Zeenat Khan, who founded the organization.

Khan said the group serves people coming from all over the world, so they’ve tried to adjust the contents of the boxes to make sure families get the kinds of foods their families are used to eating.

“We try to take a survey of where the families are from — Afghanistan or Syria or Sudan — and what they really eat for Ramadan, and we try to have those items in their bags,” Khan said. “Some eat pasta, some don’t eat pasta, some require more lentils, so we try to cover the bags with essentials so everyone has something they can break their fast with.”

Khan said the group is prioritizing newly arrived families, larger families, and those headed by single women who are unemployed. She said they’ll serve other families in their network with what’s left over.

The group has served between 400 and 500 families so far during this first week of Ramadan, Khan said. After running out, the nonprofit Islamic Relief USA donated more boxes of food for the group to distribute.

“We have noticed that the need for food, for groceries, is immense. I get several text messages a day from families requiring groceries. Even the ones with food stamps, because they are larger families, cannot cover [their groceries] just with their food stamps. So it seems like this has been a difficult few months for people to provide food for their families,” Khan said.

Khan’s group relies on volunteers to help refugee families settle into their new homes in North Texas. That involves mentoring them on how to find their way around, figure out where to get essential services and adjust to the area. Many don’t speak English and have to learn the unwritten rules of a new place. They often need help finding work or housing.

She said she’s also hearing from more migrant families, including those who are undocumented, who need help.

Ramadan always brings a surge of interest in volunteering, which Khan welcomes. But she hopes people will commit to volunteering for the rest of the year as well, because the need doesn’t end with Eid-al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

“Having volunteers come out, even if it’s just to do some office work or teach [English as a second language] or go visit these families and help them with navigating where they are is very important,” Khan said. “You’re always going to have refugees, you’re always going to have the issues that they’re facing, so long-term volunteers are so important for an organization like ours.”

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.