Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American resident of Baltimore, died on April 19th, 2015. A week prior, he had sustained severe neck and spine injuries during a police arrest. Then on April 27th, West Baltimore erupted as protests against the alleged “police brutality” turned violent. A CVS was burned, dozens of people were arrested, the National Guard was called, and the city went under nightly curfew.
Approximately three miles away, in the Baltimore mosque of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, members were thinking of ways to help. After hearing that a senior citizen shelter was in need of food, we took charge of preparing and delivering daily hot meals to over sixty members of this shelter.
But after fulfilling this week-long commitment, the larger question remained: What did the city really need and how could we fulfill that need?
The Need Emerges
“People in the city just need love” said a member who had worked in the city for over twenty years. It was love that gave birth to the idea of providing #FreeIceCream.
So on May 4th, volunteers of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Baltimore started working to launch a campaign to provide free ice cream, daily, to the kids in Baltimore city. “We must protect these little flowers of heaven from the anger they are seeing,” one member said, “Let’s give them something to smile about.”
The Enchanting Music
On May 6th, our ice cream truck arrived at Baltimore’s ground zero. Loaded with colorful banners, enchanting music, and yummy flavors, the truck was parked right in front of the CVS – still showing the scars of the violence it had sustained just days prior.
It didn’t take long. One-by-one, they came. First kids, then adults, then seniors. “I want sprinkles” one shouted. “More sprinkles” another one giggled. “Can I have a chocolate and vanilla swirl?” Before we knew it, the lines were getting long and social media was buzzing. We served over 225 free ice creams within hours on day 1.
After that, it became a daily affair. A team of volunteers, filled with a truck of ice cream, spreading love to the kids in the city. By May 8th, the kids were lining up even before the ice cream truck arrived. Love was in the air.
Moving Forward. Come Join Us
The #LoveForAll initiative by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Baltimore continues. After serving the epicenter at the junction of W. North Ave. and Pennsylvania Ave. with over 700 #FreeIceCreams, our truck will now be roaming the streets of Baltimore starting this Monday, May 11th.
Come join us. Kids and seniors get a free ice cream anytime. Occasionally, we make an exception for adults as well. After all, who doesn’t need a little love?
Find us on Twitter by using the hashtags #FreeIceCream and #LoveForAll. Scroll down to see pictures and videos. And read our blog (below) to catch a glimpse of the beautiful people of West Baltimore.
Daily Report (Blog)
Day 1–There is nary a sight more beautiful than the smile of a child. The innocence of such a smile is enough to brighten the darkest of days. With the last week and a half being some of the darker days in Baltimore’s recent history, we set out to on a 4-day journey to put a smile on as many children as possible. Surely, this would brighten up our city. Even if just a little.
Today was day 1 of this journey, and boy did it feel good! Banners plastered with “Love for All, Hatred for None” in tow, our friend Ahmad manning his ice cream truck, we dispensed 220 ice cream cones to the children of Baltimore today. 220 tokens of love. Many people asked us throughout the afternoon, “Why are you doing this? What do you get out of this?” 220 smiles. We got 220 beautiful, innocent smiles. 220 smiles that were enough to brighten our hearts 220 times over. Each of these smiles was a testament to the words of the Messenger of Allah, “Children are the flowers of Paradise.” Surely, the children we saw smiling today are definitely the flowers of Baltimore.
Many thanks to Sadr Sahib, Mansoor Shams Sahib, Abdul Latif Bennett Sahib, Hafiz Abdul Qudus Sahib, and Harris Khan Sahib for coming out today to give these beautiful flowers some sunshine. With prayers for their future, we look forward to day 2 of our journey to brighten our city and wonder at what marvelous flowers we will discover tomorrow.
Day 2 – It’s not about the ice cream. It’s about hope. We saw this a number of ways on Day 2 of our 4 day journey to bring some joy to the children of our city.
Right at the start, as we were beginning to set up for the afternoon, a young man reached into the ice cream truck, grabbed a bag of nachos, and tried to make a run for it. Luckily, one of our team members stopped him before he took off and retrieved the nachos. The young man still ran for it, empty handed. Presumably out of shame. We were all a bit disappointed in his actions, to say the least. Dare I say, there was even a sense of hopelessness.
But no, this did not damper our spirits. With even more zeal than yesterday, we increased our total and distributed approximately 230 free ice cream cones and slurpees to children and seniors through the afternoon. In our efforts to increase this number, two of us took a walk around the neighborhood to bring in as many children as possible. To provide hope to as many children as possible.
As we spread the word, we found a gentleman who was kind enough to walk with us and help promote our endeavor. As we walked through the poverty-stricken neighborhood, unbeknownst to him, he explained to us the actions of that young man. He explained what it feels like to live in such a neighborhood – where you have next to nothing, next to no one, next to no support, and almost no one to show you that you are cared and loved for. When you are left to fend for yourself, with no help, how can you not get hopeless? It’s bound to happen. And when it does, how do you not commit such actions?
He continued to explain that all these kids need is to be shown some love, to be shown that they matter, and that they are cared for. They need to be shown hope. Only then can they have any hope.
Which brings me back to the young man who tried to steal nachos at the start. Oh, what a comeback he made. Right as we were just about ready to call it a day, this young man reappeared. With a smile on his face and a box of chocolates in his hand, he sure came back with a vengeance. And what did he have to say for himself? He apologized and offered us all chocolates. In that moment, hope sprang eternal.
So you see, it really isn’t about the ice cream. Or the slurpees. Or the chocolates. It’s about hope. It’s about showing these kids that we are here, we love them, and we care for them. It’s about giving them hope. Making us hopeful in return. For hope begets hope.
And so, with many thanks to our numerous volunteers for giving out 230 small tokens of hope today, and half our journey over, we excitedly look forward to Day 3.
Day-3 What can please Allah more than to serve His creation? Than to put a few smiles on their faces? The Messenger of Allah tells us, “Allah loves His creation seventy times more than a mother loves her child.”
That’s a tall claim. Have you ever seen how happy a mother gets when you show her child some love? When you give her child a smile or a hug? How about a free ice cream or a slushie? Well, we sure have. As we gave away these ice creams and slushies over the last 3 days, the amount of appreciation on the mothers’ faces was indescribable, bordering on shock. They loved it. Because their kids loved it. And so, we loved it. But did we have any idea how much God loved it?
On day 3, God showed us how much He loved it. We got off to a blazing fast start with kids lining up before the ice cream truck even arrived. But halfway through the day, our friend Ahmad’s ice cream machine broke down and he had to leave for repairs. What a bummer, you must be thinking. We were done for. Or were we?
This is where God showed us how much He loved what we were doing. How He wanted us to continue and arranged for it Himself.
You see, when two of us took a walk around the neighbourhood on day 2 to bring in more kids, we ran into another ice cream truck. We spoke to the man running this truck, Hassan, and explained what we were doing. We exchanged phone numbers, not thinking anything of it other than the fact that it was good to have another contact. We did not know Ahmad’s ice cream machine would break down the next day. But God did, and this is what He had planned. Surely, Allah truly is the best of all Planners (Qur`an, 8:31).
And so, on day 3, as soon as Ahmad broke the news that he had to leave for repairs, we called our new friend Hassan who leapt into action and helped us reach a total of 200 free ice creams and slushies for the day. Sure, because of the pause in action, we did not give away as many free ice creams and slushies as before, but what we experienced was so much more valuable than the number.
On day 3, we experienced how much God loved and appreciated this service to His creation. We truly experienced how God’s love for His creation really was seventy times more than a mother’s love for her child. Yes, even more than those mothers who were so pleasantly shocked that we were giving their children free ice creams and slushies.
So, at the end of day 3, after having fallen in love with all these children, we fell back in love with God. And we move this journey forward with our hearts crying out, “All praise truly does belong to Allah, the Lord and Master of all creation.”