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Power of Community: Eman Abbas

Food is a crucial need, and we must ensure that we help everyone and that everyone can access food to be successful and contribute to the community. Increasing awareness of food justice will give all nutritious, affordable and culturally-appropriate food access. Raising awareness of food justice is essential to ensure everyone is treated equally with equity and inclusion.

Eman Abbas
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Meet Eman Abbas. Eman is a community leader, an immigrant, a mother, and an advocate for housing, food assistance, and legal assistance.

“Food is one of the essentials that everybody needs. It does not matter where you are from or which community [you’re a part of]. As a mother, if I cannot support my kids with food, they cannot go to school, do their jobs or live their life. It's something essential. And if they don't have it, it'll be a barrier for them to be successful.”

When Eman immigrated to the United States, she — like many immigrants — faced barriers as she sought access to resources like food assistance. Because of Eman’s fluency in English, she was able to navigate the system, though not without difficulty. But she saw how others in her community struggled or were completely unable to access resources because of the language barrier. So Eman started a Facebook group where she could share resources available to her community — things like DHS services or food distributions — and translated them into Arabic so everyone in her community could find them, regardless of language.

Since then, Eman’s community advocacy has blossomed. She is now the secretary of ACCESS Oregon, a board member of Muslim Education Trust and a Food Systems Ambassador with Oregon Food Bank. Eman started a monthly food distribution in her role as an Ambassador, providing culturally-specific, halal foods for Muslim families. Eman built a database, reached out to her community to get feedback on their needs, and started a delivery service so families wouldn’t have to worry about transportation. Eman built relationships with established organizations like Muslim Education Trust, IRCO, and the Beaverton School District for additional resources and to reach even more underserved families.

To Eman, it’s important to provide culturally-specific foods so that families can choose foods that are familiar and in keeping with their culture and dietary needs. Before she started her distribution, she heard from many family members that food they were accessing from other distributions or from school weren’t halal and appropriate for their family. Eman’s ability to connect with and communicate with her community has also helped her meet other dietary restrictions. Eman’s distribution has made a meaningful difference for families in her community.

When Eman began as an Ambassador with Oregon Food Bank, she was hesitant, unsure about the language barrier and whether she might struggle to ask the right questions. But since joining the Ambassador program, Eman has gained nonprofit management skills, like establishing a 501(c)3 organization and building relationships with culturally-specific local supermarkets. Eman says the Ambassador program gave her skills, courage, and confidence that will help her support her community for years to come.

Sajjad Alrubaye, owner of Cedar Halal Market, knows Eman not only as a community leader, but also as a customer. Eman and Aras came together to support their communities with food distributions.

"...For me, helping people is one of my big dreams because I believe this is why we are here. We have to help each other. We have to support each other. And I wish that this project can grow and provide more items to more people because we have the capacity and there is demand."

I felt that because of the positive feedback I got from the community that it's a successful project. I am really happy we started this. And with help from the food bank and other community leaders, we can grow this program and we can help more families. It's really great to see a project that you have a vision for now actually working and helping the community.

Eman Abbas

Eman knows from her own immigration experience and from her work within her community that there are many barriers for immigrants that drive hunger and poverty. She knows seniors and families in her community who struggle to find resources they should have access to simply because there aren’t resources in their home language or because they don’t have transportation. For many, this means they are unable to access or even unaware of benefits they are eligible for. As a single mom who faced some of these barriers herself, Eman knows that these changes can make a life-changing difference for people in her community.

“Put yourself in their place. If you don't know how to read or how to navigate the system, or you don't have the transportation, you don't have the support.”

When families have their basic needs met, like food and shelter, Eman shares that this opens up doors to help families thrive. When families receive their food boxes from Eman’s distribution and get connected with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly food stamps, that’s one less expense they have to worry about.

Not only is food one less expense to worry about, but culturally specific food can also strengthen community. “Usually food stamps will not cover everything — the way we cook our food, the spices we added — so this made the transition to the new culture easy… they’ve helped us to fill some of the gaps,” shared Aras Dezay, ACCESS Oregon President.

Eman dreams about a community where people who have education overseas can have their degrees recognized in the U.S. She dreams about a community where language barriers do not limit people from accessing the resources they need. And she dreams about a community where healthcare and housing are provided as human rights. Distributions like Eman’s, which help families meet their basic needs, create the foundation for a world where we can work toward helping families not only survive, but thrive.

“Everybody has the right to food, whatever their immigration status. Food is essential. It's not something extra that I need to be successful. No, everybody needs access to food. Oregon has the resources. And we can help everybody. So why not help everybody? Why not give everybody access to the resources we already have?”

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