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Giveaway of hygiene products takes on importance with the spread of coronavirus

Mohamad Noor takes advantage of the ICNA Relief Specialty Pantry at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Boston Saturday. The pantry is designed to fulfill an unmet need within the service area by distributing basic hygiene products including deodorant, shampoo, bar soap and toilet paper as well as household cleaners.
Mohamad Noor takes advantage of the ICNA Relief Specialty Pantry at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Boston Saturday. The pantry is designed to fulfill an unmet need within the service area by distributing basic hygiene products including deodorant, shampoo, bar soap and toilet paper as well as household cleaners.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Before the coronavirus began to spread, it might have been hard to guess how appreciated toilet paper and disinfectant would be this weekend. But in low-income communities, the need was already there, according to ICNA Relief, a Muslim nonprofit that launched its first pantry of essentials in Roxbury on Saturday morning.

When the organization began planning months ago to begin a monthly distribution at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, ICNA Relief was aiming to help families access goods that government assistance programs like SNAP do not provide, including shampoo, toothpaste, and laundry detergent, said Malika MacDonald, director of the New England branch of the national organization. During early planning, they had anticipated 50 to 75 people.

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On Saturday, though, the giveaway was as much of a virus preparedness center as a pantry, as the organization offered bags of increasingly scarce household essentials and information about the virus in Arabic and Somali to 244 people, she said. “A lot of info being distributed in English only,” which her clients often speak but do not all read, she said.

Families that struggle to afford household goods are even more vulnerable as people react to the spread of the virus by emptying shelves at stores, MacDonald said.

Volunteers  Sarfaraz Nasir and April Cardoso, right, prepare items for recipients at the ICNA Relief Specialty Pantry at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Boston Saturday.
Volunteers Sarfaraz Nasir and April Cardoso, right, prepare items for recipients at the ICNA Relief Specialty Pantry at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Boston Saturday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

“It was that much more crucial to open up the pantry today."

Volunteers also brought goods to the Marcus Garvey Gardens Apartments, where some of the organization’s elderly regulars had stayed inside rather than risk exposure to the virus to get essentials like adult diapers, toilet paper, and soap.

“Seniors are following the advice [to stay in] — it’s good, but at the same time they’re on a fixed income and they didn’t have time to prepare for this,” MacDonald said.

“A lot of people were saying we shouldn’t be afraid and to trust in God,” she said.

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But having a full pantry is important, too, she said.

“We have an expression...we trust in God but we tie our camels.”






Lucas Phillips can be reached at lucas.phillips@globe.com.