More than one million refugees, half the population of the Gaza Strip, rely on UNRWA - the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East - to put food on the table for their families. In the year 2000, the number of people in need was just 80,000.
So why are people in Gaza becoming increasingly food insecure? Due to the de-development of Gaza caused by the Israeli and Egyptian imposed air, land, and sea blockade, people in Gaza are facing extreme poverty and high levels of unemployment.
Americans from coast to coast are getting creative with their solidarity and hosting Gather for Gaza events as fundraisers to provide food for refugees.
What is Gather for Gaza?
Gather for Gaza is a fun way for individuals to host their own event that raises money to provide food for refugees in Gaza. When you sign up, you have the option to donate to receive a Gather for Gaza hosting kit by mail to add an informative flair to your event! These events vary from potlucks to restaurant catered dinners to after-school functions.
This opportunity, formerly known as Iftar for Gaza, is an important way to bring the conversation around Palestine refugees, food insecurity, and the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip into peoples’ homes and American communities and to take action to support refugees by generating funds for UNRWA’s at-risk food assistance program.
This Ramadan, Americans from New York to California hosted 27 Gather for Gaza events raising critical funds for UNRWA food assistance while also educating their communities on the great ongoing needs in Gaza, worsened by years of blockade, poverty, and the UNRWA funding crisis. Here are some highlights from the events that collectively raised enough to provide food for 541 Palestine refugee families this summer:
Bergen, New Jersey
For the third year in a row, Sara Abdelhadi from Bergen, NJ, has been hosting charitable iftars for UNRWA USA. The first year, she brought 20 close family friends together and raised enough to provide food for 10 families in Gaza. The following year, her event grew 5 times the size, with so many guests they ran out of food! They ultimately raised enough to support 51 refugee families. This year was the biggest yet. Sara’s Gather for Gaza event was an extension of an existing fundraiser she set up with her ‘Sisters for Palestine.’ These ‘sisters’ met up in Palestine for a summer and after seeing the work UNRWA does for refugees, they were determined to host recurring bi-monthly fundraising events to make a difference. Their most recent event raised over $2,100 for refugees in Gaza and more than $8,000 since the start of their campaign!
Reflecting on the iftar and other events, she says, “we've not only been able to collect some money to help Palestine refugees but also, we've spread the word about the humanitarian crisis taking place in the Middle East! It's been an honor working with UNRWA USA at their annual Gather for Gaza, Gaza 5K, as well as many other initiatives. I look forward to joining in on upcoming causes!”
Over 50 friends and family members came to Marya and Andrew’s iftar benefiting Palestine refugees. In the true spirit of community, Marya said everyone chipped in -- with her sister buying “way too many dinner ingredients” at Costco to prepare a delicious dinner, friends arriving early to prepare the food and set up, and local Mediterranean Bakery and Cafe donating 90 pieces of baklava for dessert. During dinner, friends performed their own poetry, discussed current events and politics (only fitting for our nation’s capital!), and the situation facing Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip. Keeping with the theme of charity and access to food, Marya and Andrew donated all the leftovers to the Volunteers of America Chesapeake, feeding more than just those around their table that evening -- locally and internationally.
UC Davis undergraduates Khadeja and Sara teamed up to host a dinner with their fellow students on campus. Being away from home, they said this event was not just a way to apply their studies as global citizens but also created a sense of community and charity while they were miles away from their families. After dinner, as a creative way to raise more money, they raffled off paintings and photos!
Laila El-Haddad (award-winning Palestinian author and chef from Gaza) and her husband, Dr. Yassine Daoud (a Palestine refugee who grew up in Lebanon), are longstanding supporters of UNRWA USA, involved in everything from Gaza 5Ks to educational events. Given their family’s close connection to Gaza, UNRWA, and love for creating connections through food, hosting a Gather for Gaza event was an easy decision. Dr. Daoud shares that as a Palestine refugee that is now very successful doctor, he feels hosting charitable events, such as their Gather for Gaza iftar, are ways to get together with friends, share their family connection to the cause, and provide for the less fortunate. He says that one of the highlights of the iftar, held at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center in Columbia, MD, was to see people from various religious and socio-economic backgrounds share in a meal together and come together around a meaningful, unifying cause.
Coney Island, New York
Hosting charitable iftars to support Palestine refugees in Gaza has become a tradition at Coney Island Prep, and this year was no different! In the third year hosting the event, 60 students, family members, and teachers came together to bring awareness around food insecurity in Gaza. Christy Boise, school principal and event organizer was impressed and proud of the agency the students took in educating themselves and others, stating that one of her students donated $150 after going home and speaking to her parents about the struggles and challenges Palestine refugees in Gaza are faced with. When Christy describes why her school finds this a meaningful event year after year, she says that “[it] brings our community together for such a worthwhile cause. I really enjoy seeing how hard the students work to prepare for this event and how excited they are to share it with their teachers and families.”
San Francisco, California
Kimberly held an immersive and educational potluck dinner, which included a display featuring the food items given to families during UNRWA food distributions in Gaza, a silent auction featuring donated and handmade items from guests, and presentations given by Matthias Schmale, UNRWA Director of Operations in Gaza, and Lama Abed, a 15 year old UNRWA student, streamed from the Gaza Strip.
Matthias spoke about the manmade humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the importance of ending the blockade, and UNRWA’s work to support over a million refugees in Gaza. Lama offered the perspective of a child whose life has been framed and shaped by these factors, and yet still holds on to the hope to study internationally, travel, and become a cowgirl when she grows up. Kimberly shared that the event was meaningful and moving and a way to get new and old friends together around an important cause.
Longtime UNRWA USA supporter Carol Muskin hosted a dinner featuring traditional Palestinian food with family and friends. Currently hosting two high school exchange students, including a young woman from Nablus, Carol found Gather for Gaza a creative way to create connection between Palestine and the US over a shared meal. Drawing inspiration from Joudie Kalla’s Baladi cookbook and her own family’s cooking in Palestine, exchange student Layana helped plan the menu for the evening. They were joined by friends who were very well versed in issues relating to Palesitne refugees and those who knew comparatively little. Carol says it was a great way to start that conversation for some and educate fellow members of her Illinoian community on issues that she cares deeply about.
One guest, Lesley, described the event saying: “Gather for Gaza is a marvelous way to share the Palestinian struggle with friends and family in a convivial, non-threatening setting. As we gathered for delicious Palestinian food, our conversation ranged across our varied experiences with Palestine. The discussion and information cards provided [by UNRWA USA] were great conversation starters and kept the ideas flowing. [I] can’t wait to do it again!”
Takoma Park, Maryland
Gabi and her mother hosted a memorable dinner in their beautiful backyard in Takoma Park, Maryland. Joined by 30 close friends, they enjoyed a homemade meal, which was capped off with an impressive made-from-scratch gluten-free knafe, enjoyed by those with and without allergies alike!
Students and staff at the UC Irvine Anthropology department took time away from their studies and research to host a potluck iftar on campus in support of Palestine refugees. They were joined remotely by Syrian-Canadian journalist and researcher Yazan al-Saadi, who led a discussion about the ongoing crisis through his journalistic lens and the significance of UNRWA based on his experiences. Together around a lovely meal, this socially aware and active group raised enough to support three Palestine refugee families with UNRWA food assistance. After hosting this event, they said they are keen to come together and host more events in support of Palestine refugees and UNRWA’s work for them!
Did you host a #gatherforgaza event?
Share your photos and videos with us via email or using hashtag #GatherforGaza so we can feature what you and your community achieved together! Thank you for keeping Gaza in your hearts and minds and for continuing to show Palestine refugees that Americans care.
Feeling inspired to host?
Ramadan may be over, but you can host Gather for Gaza events all year long to benefit UNRWA food assistance for Palestine refugee families in the Gaza Strip. Learn more about this opportunity and sign up to host today!