MALDEN — In a colorful school cafeteria on a rainy evening, parents, friends and community leaders anxiously awaited 8:23 p.m.
The exact time of Friday’s sunset marked both the breaking of the Ramadan fast in the Muslim faith, and, this year, in Malden, the coming together of different religions and cultures for what Nicole Mossalam called “taking care of our own.”
Mossalam, administrative director for the Outreach Community and Reform Center in Malden, had wanted to host an Interfaith Fastathon for years. The event at Malden High School invited non-Muslims to fast in the Ramadan tradition and encouraged community members and local businesses to donate in support.
By 8:30 p.m. Friday, Mossalam said, the fastathon had raised more than $2,000 toward its goal of $16,000 — the amount of outstanding school lunch balances in Malden Public Schools.
Malden Public Schools serve roughly 5,000 meals each day, according to Food Services Director Omar Hernandez, making accommodations for families who can’t afford to pay in full up front.
“We can end food insecurity in Malden Public School,” Hernandez said at the event. “And what has occurred here tonight and what we’re doing together is a step in the right direction.”
Heather Vickery fasted Friday and said it was harder than she expected in some ways and easier in others. It was the first time Vickery had ever fasted, but said she was compelled by the cause and her friends at the outreach center.
“We wanted to support our friends and feel what they feel at this time,” Vickery said.
The poetic nature of fasting to support school lunches wasn’t lost on Vickery or Yolanda Wutkiewicz, who also fasted.
Wutkiewicz said she tried to explain the complexities of the event to her kindergarten-aged daughter, Anna.
“Not only am I trying to cover what Ramadan is,” she said, “but for her, in kindergarten, it’s a new concept that some families don’t have enough money to eat.”
Malden Mayor Gary Christenson said he tried to fast for the event, but couldn’t quite make it — he broke around 5 p.m.
Christenson said it was events like the one Friday, so often organized by the mosque, that made him proud to hold his office. The diversity of the room, the intent of the fund-raiser, and the commitment of OCRC to the community, he said, were all true to the city’s spirit.
“As mayor, I deal with a lot of negativity and I hear a lot of problems,” he said during the event. “And tonight it’s so great to be here and to see what’s so great and right in Malden.”Sara Salinas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @saracsalinas.