Somalia is in crop-killing drought after years of poor rainfall. About half the country’s population needs help with basic food and water. According to the United Nations, one million children under the age of the five face acute malnourishment.
“What’s happening in Somalia, Sudan, and Ethiopia is famine. And when I talk about famine, it’s on a Biblical scale,” says Mohamed Ahmed, the Minneapolis creator of 'Average Mohammed,' an anti-ISIS web series.
“There’s no food, no water, no grass, no nothing. So people are basically deciding which kid should live and which kid should die.”
Somalia last suffered a famine in 2011. It killed nearly 300,000 people – half of them young children. In an appeal for global aid two months ago, UN relief head Stephen O’Brien asked wealthy countries not to wait for photos of emaciated children before acting.
The looming famine has been heavy on the minds of the Somali diaspora in Minnesota. Luul Osman, founder of the youth mentorship nonprofit Hilaac, worries about the family she left behind.
“Always, I feel something for my people, the place I was born, the people I was surrounded by when I was young, and I told myself I have to do something,” Osman says.
So when she met Jay Perske of Sareen Ministries, a church and mosque collaboration, she asked for some interfaith help with a fundraising campaign.
Perske, who gives mosque tours to anybody who’s interested, had luckily just taken a couple executives of Feed My Starving Children on a tour. Feed My Starving Children is a Minnesota nonprofit that ships 300 million cheap and nutritious meals a year to more than 70 countries in need. It had helped during the 2011 Somali famine, and agreed to help again.
Osmaan, Perske, and about a dozen other Somali leaders came up with the idea of holding a food-packing marathon that would take 30,000 volunteers to produce 6 million meals bound for Somalia, from June 2-5 at St. Paul’s RiverCentre.
So far, hundreds of churches have pledged about 12,000 volunteers and raised more than $30,000 for shipping. Perske says that since imams have been pushing the event during Friday service, he’s expecting another 10,000 Somali Americans to show up as well.
Metro Transit has agreed to give free rides to anybody headed to RiverCentre to pack food. The Twins are promoting it on their jumbotron during games. The Wild is sending emails to season ticket holders.
“Minnesota’s coming together here,” Perske says. “Anybody can come. We want Muslims, Jews, atheists, Christians, anybody. If you live in Minnesota, Somalis are your neighbors, and their friends and family are suffering. We need to do something.”