When St. Louis city police chaplain Dzemal Bijedic responded to a call for help from a newly-arrived family of Syrian refugees last year, he couldn’t have imagined that it would lead to the creation of a non-profit organization called Bait Ulmal, which means “House of Goods” in Arabic, to provide supplies to those in need at no cost.
When refugees arrive in St. Louis, they are resettled by the International Institute. Resettlement agencies across the country (including the International Institute of St. Louis) are given a small amount of money (about $950/person) to cover the costs of new arrivals for their first few months in the United States.
Although the resettlement department does its best to help refugees, challenges arise based on the limited pool of resources available. Often, the needs of new arrivals go beyond what the International Institute is able to provide.
Bijedic, who came to the U.S. as a refugee himself in 1990s, saw this disparity when he visited a family of Syrian refugees last year. His compassion for them– and others in similar situations – moved him to action.
In a Facebook post, Bijedic reached out to his extensive network of fellow immigrants, issuing a call for donations to be taken to the family he met. An immediate outpouring of support followed, and he realized that something needed to be done to connect the people living in poverty to the people who were willing to give of what they already had.
Bijedic went to his friend and fellow chaplain, Adil Imdad, with an idea to open a donation center where items could be collected and distributed – free of charge – to refugees and others in need. The two officially launched their non-profit House of Goods in November of 2015, at 4815 Oleatha, in south St. Louis.
In addition to working as a geotechnical engineer and a Muslim police chaplain for St. Louis County, Imdad is the chairman of social services for the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis.
For Bijedic and Imdad, providing support for those in need is an important part of their identity.
“Chaplains, the basic things we offer: comfort, strength, peace, hope, charity," said Imdad. "That plays into what we do.”
According to Imdad, the first House of Goods, a warehouse stocked with food and other supplies, was created 1,450 years ago by the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. Bijedic and Imdad said their faith is an important part of what drives them to continue serving impoverished communities.
“When I read the holy book Quran, almost one-fourth of that is filled with charity,” Imdad said. “You know, God Almighty gives direction to help out the needy and poor people, not only the people of your faith but any people.”
Bijedic and Imdad emphasize that House of Goods is not an organization that exists solely for members of the Muslim faith. Although their commitment to the poor is motivated by deeply-held convictions, they do not require that others share these convictions in order to receive services. Those who are interested in volunteering with House of Goods don’t have to be Muslim either.
“Many volunteers who are coming to us are non-Muslims,” Imdad said. “Churches are sending them to us, and the kids are coming from universities…and when they are with us, we don’t talk religion. We talk help. We talk charity and compassion.”
Since its creation in November of last year, House of Goods has helped over 2,300 people in the St. Louis community. The donation center is in the process of moving from its initial space – a building rented on Oleatha – to a new, permanent facility paid for by the Islamic Foundation.
How can someone who is interested in helping the organization get involved?
House of Goods relies heavily on volunteers and people who are willing to donate furniture, household goods, hygiene items, food, and other supplies or vehicles to transport material. The organization can arrange pick-up of donated goods.
Their new website should be launching soon, but for now, if you’d like to stay up-to-date with their activities and volunteer opportunities, follow the Facebook page here.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work, and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.