U-Adeeg volunteers and organizers bag groceries outside of a Seward neighborhood high rise before delivering it to the tenants above. Photo courtesy of Nadira Mohamed.

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As hundreds of adult daycare centers in Minnesota remain closed due to Governor Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order, many elderly Somali community members are left wondering where their next meal may come from. With the lockdown stretching to May 4, and possibly beyond, these older adults are in need of help. That’s where community activist Mohamed Sharif and his peers came in. They banded together to create the initiative U-Adeeg, a Somali term that means “to serve.”

Since mid-March, the group of young Somali students and professionals based in the Twin Cities has gathered to pack groceries for elderly community members. Given that young people are more likely to recover from COVID-19, U-Adeeg members felt they could even risk trips to the grocery store.

Mohamed Sharif said the effort came together thanks to message boards run by Somali North American Business and Professionals Inc. (SNABPI), a national association of Somali professionals with its largest chapter in Minnesota. “This initiative first started on SNABPI message boards, and talking about seniors and how we can do more for them,” said Mohamed Sharif, who is a member of SNABPI.

Volunteers with the U-Adeeg group posted a video on Facebook sharing its aims and intentions and calling on viewers to volunteer and share the need for more volunteers during the month of Ramadan.

Making connections

Searching through his networks, Sharif reached out to Mohamed Omar, the executive director of the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington. He explained the need to support elderly community members who have been unable to access services at daycare centers. Mohamed Omar saw the importance of the effort and granted U-Adeeg space at Dar Al Farooq.

Now with a base of operations, the group set out to establish a relationship with a grocery provider. Mohamed Omar pointed the group to the South Metro Islamic Center in Rosemount, which has a connection with Second Harvest Heartland.

On April 16, volunteers gathered at the Rosemount mosque to bag groceries. People worked quickly and all told, the U-Adeeg initiative was able to pack enough groceries for 100 separate families throughout the metro area.

Given that most of the recipients were Somali, volunteers wanted to include culturally-specific foods in the deliveries. Volunteer Hassan Arab, former director of the Karmel Masjid, was able to connect U-Adeeg with shops at the Karmel Mall in Minneapolis, which donated the culturally-specific items.

In order to better coordinate their efforts, members of U-Adeeg met with the owners of several adult daycare centers. “What we decided to do was we collected some of them and told them we could help,” Mohamed Sharif said.

The daycare owners shared frustration with the lockdown. They view their work as essential to their clients. Although many seniors come to these centers to socialize, they also receive assistance from the staff when it comes to filling prescriptions and grabbing groceries. 

“They have a lot of clients that they take care of but no way to take care of them,” Mohamed Sharif said.

Serving in a new way

Having been recruited by U-Adeeg, staff from St. Paul-based Multicultural Adult Daycare (MADC) joined in on the grocery bagging effort at Dar Al Farooq. Raaha Aden, one of the MADC volunteers, happily packed groceries and supplies for the daycare’s clients. “They don’t know the language and there are a lot of things that they need,” Raaha said. “We would provide extra services like translating documents, filing for benefits, or grabbing their prescriptions.”

The room where the volunteers worked was littered with dozens of plastic bags containing dried food and cleaning supplies. The MADC volunteers loaded their vehicles, intent on distributing the goods throughout the metro. The daycare has over 100 local clients.

Much of the work done to help the elders comes from unguaranteed resources. “Our business is virtually finished if this pandemic continues,” said MADC staffer Sulekha Hassan. “We can’t go to all the clients since our staff is low compared to what it was before. Doing this alone with no support is tough.”

She said that recently, she sat on the phone for nearly two hours trying to help replace an Electronic Benefit Transfer card for a client. Other volunteers recounted clients asking for rides and services who were unaware of the pandemic due to language barriers.

Looking toward the future

Mohamed Sharif looks forward to the work ahead. So far, U-Adeeg’s resources are growing and the group plans to do good at any level they can. “We’re just scratching the surface,” he said. “There are so many people sitting at home that we’re not getting to right now, but we want to help at any capacity.”

They continue to organize online by recruiting volunteers, creating content, and building a client database for future deliveries. With daycare centers and other services for elderly Minnesotans closed for the time being, it may take the effort of the community to serve those in need.

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Abdirahman Mohamed

Abdirahman Mohamed is a contributing reporter for Sahan Journal. Raised in Saint Paul, Abdirahman was born in Mombasa, Kenya as his family fled as refugees from Somalia. He’s currently a senior at the...