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How the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted food and faith

Posted at 11:27 AM, Sep 22, 2022

NEW YORK — For many, if not all religions, food is an integral part of how people observe. It's not always easy when people are in need.

In the Highbridge area of the Bronx, New York. a food pantry that serves numerous communities has become one of several reliable sources of halal meat for Muslim community members.

The Community Food Pantry at Highbridge is one of nearly 20 food pantries in the Bronx. It’s a few blocks from Yankee Stadium, a few miles from the Manhattan skyline. It serves largely an immigrant community that has long relied on what pantries provide.

“I am the person who started this madness," said Nurah Amat'ullah, who runs the Muslim Women’s Institute for Research and Development in the Bronx. The food pantry is her creation.

While most who use her pantry don’t share her faith, she knows its importance to those who do.

“They would go to these pantries and receive items that would go totally outside the Muslim diet, basically pork items," Amat'ullah recalled.

Access is one problem. Access combined with all the ripples of a global pandemic creates bigger problems.

“Health disparity, economic disparity, access," said Amat'ullah, "COVID just ripped that all open."

Two-and-a-half years since the pandemic began, its impact continues to be felt by people of faith. Early on, more than twice as many Americans said they felt less connected to their congregations. Even now, as restrictions have lifted, a third of U.S. adults who used to attend services regularly have yet to return.

For America’s nearly 3 1/2 million Muslims, inflation and supply chain issues have sent prices soaring for an essential component of their faith.

"We saw almost a 200, 250% increase" in the cost of lamb, Amat'ullah said, "which is significant. No one’s salary increases that much."

On days when the pantry operates, volunteers pull bricks of lamb from the freezer and supply, to those who require it, a fundamental need.

“The way you get to being a better person is being able to see the divine presence in everyone else," said Amat'ullah. "We should leave humanity, and we should leave the world, better than we found it."