New York, April 24 (IANS) New York City will provide 500,000 free halal meals for Ramzan, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Announcing the programme, de Blasio said on Thursday: “One of Ramzan’s most noble calling is to feed the hungry, it is a crucial part of how the holiday is celebrated, to remember to be there for those in need.”
Since mosques that provide meals for the poor to break their Ramzan fast are not able to function because of the COVID-19 restrictions, the city will ensure they will get halal meals, he said.
The halal meals will be a part of a wider free meals programme run by the city to help all those impoverished by the massive loss of jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis.
De Blasio said that although the halal meals will be available through the 435 distribution sites, 32 of them in areas with large Muslim communities will be the focus of the programme.
He said that 400,000 halal meals will be distributed directly by the city at its distribution centres known as “grab-and-go” sites because the people receiving the meal packages have to leave immediately and cannot eat there.
Another 100,000 meals will be distributed through community organisations, he said.
Those who cannot leave their homes can request home delivery.
The city has already been distributing kosher meals that conform to Jewish dietary regulations.
De Blasio said that he estimates that about 2 million people in the city’s population of 8.6 million are “food insecure” and could go hungry.
“That’s a horrifying number,” he said.
The city expects to distribute 10 million free meals in April and 15 million in May, the Mayor said.
Besides running the “grab-and-go” centres, the city is also delivering meals to the homebound by employing thousands of taxi and online hail service drivers who have become unemployed because of the coronavirus shutdown.
The federal government is giving $1,200 to all adults and $500 to children, but illegal immigrants, who are a sizable number in the city, are not eligible for them.
Many of them work in the unorganised sector and do not qualify for unemployment insurance, either.
The poorer citizens and legal immigrants who do not have to pay income taxes will have their payments delayed because they have to go through a process to apply for them.
Many New Yorkers will find it difficult to make ends meet even with federal aid and unemployment insurance because of the city’s high cost of living.
The state has banned evictions of tenants for 90 days to ensure that those unable to pay rent will not be out a home.
De Blasio estimated that 500,000 New Yorkers have lost their jobs.
“Think about folks who just weeks ago couldn’t have imagined not having enough food to eat and now they’re struggling to find it,” he said.
US censuses are prohibited from asking questions about religion, but an organisation, Muslims for American Progress, estimated that there were 768,767 Muslims in the city making up nearly 9 per cent of the city’s population of 8.6 million.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)