As Hunger Action Month comes to a close, I am reminded of an employee event we held last month in honor of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. For many followers of the Islamic faith, the month of Ramadan – known as a time of fasting and sacrifice – is also a time of reflection. As we deal with hunger and thirst from sunrise to sunset, we are reminded of those who deal with hunger – and poverty – every day. As we reflect on our spiritual responsibilities, we must also recall our obligation to help others in times of need. For Muslim employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), this holds especially true.
USDA touches the lives of every American. Our nutrition and food safety programs ensure that all America’s children have access to safe, nutritious, balanced meals, while our rural development programs promote prosperous, self-sustaining communities. Our conservation programs protect our national forests and private working lands, while our agricultural support programs promote American agriculture and biotechnology while increasing food security around the world.
This year, USDA expanded the StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity (www.usda.gov/strikeforce), to increase partnerships with local/state governments and communities to promote economic development and job creation in rural communities with persistent poverty. Through StrikeForce, USDA is working to ensure that all communities can fully access USDA programs.
That is why it was such a privilege to work with one of our partners, Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA), to host our fifth annual Iftar dinner (blogs.usda.gov/tag/iftar/). Almost 200 Muslim and non-Muslim employees from USDA and across the federal government came together with community members and representatives of faith-based organizations to break the day’s fast and discuss our shared goal – rebuilding and strengthening communities in need.
Undersecretary Michael Scuse (then acting deputy secretary) kicked-off the event, talking about USDA’s support for rural communities, especially during times of disaster. He was followed by Dr. Joe Leonard, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, who reminded us that while we’ve made great progress in providing equal access to USDA’s programs, there’s still more work to do. Ali Zaidi, White House Policy Advisor spoke of the importance of USDA programs that support those in need – particularly those that provide America’s next generation with access to safe, healthy food.
Dr. Abed Ayoub, president of IRUSA, showed a video about the work of his organization, and discussed efforts to provide communities around the world with access to food and water. He also discussed IRUSA’s partnership with USDA to provide meals to low-income children here at home, during the summer months when school is out, and recognized SMILE, a New Jersey-based Islamic service organization, instrumental in helping people during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Following tradition, the fast was broken with dates from American farmers in California. A delicious Middle Eastern dinner was provided by IRUSA. USDA’s Iftar is the largest among federal agencies.
Photos from the event can be viewed on USDA’s Flickr Page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/sets/72157635253026305/with/9608798214/