ORLANDO, Fla. —  A Central Florida food pantry is working to help people during their time of need and reshape the image of the Muslim community. 

  • Muslim Social Services Center provides food pantry for those in need
  • Program also aims to break down sterotypes about Muslim community
  • Islamic Society of Central Florida provides job, food, clothing resources

That pantry is just one of the many resources offered by the Islamic Society of Central Florida’s social services division.

On a typical Tuesday morning outside the Islamic Society's food pantry in the Orlando area, people are anxiously waiting so they can walk inside and fill empty bags and carts. The clock strikes 11 a.m., and the people rush in.

But first, they have to get past the gatekeeper.

“I feel their love," Xiomara Almanzar said. 

Almanzar is the gatekeeper, signing people in before they are allowed into the food pantry. She's been a volunteer at the Islamic Society food pantry since July. It's a decision rooted in the loss of her husband, who for years encouraged her to give back.

“When I retired, I told God that I would like to serve people in any way," Almanzar said. 

So she’s here, taking down information, giving out hope to others in need. Families come in by the dozens, filling bags with proteins and fresh produce.

“We don’t look at it as a handout. We look at it as a hand up," Diana Serrano said. 

Serrano once came here for help. Now, she oversees the food pantry.

"I needed to feed my kids. They didn't really know where it was coming from, because that's one thing you don't have to share with them," she said about using the pantry. "There were times I would go without food and... I would have to tell (them) little stories. I don’t want to say I lied, but you know, little stories. So I understand. I’ve been there," Serrano said. 

Bassem Chaaban, the pantry's director of outreach and operations, says the pantry helps more than 200 families each week. And while they hand out food, they also have another mission.    

"A lot of people in American don’t know much about the Muslim community, and that is another part of our work: to connect with people of other faiths, or no faith, who need our services, including the Muslim community that we service on a regular basis," Chaaban said. 

So as they help, they share their stories, hoping to break barriers still prevalent today. If you find yourself here someday, expect to see a close-knit family — and Almanzar, keeping watch while honoring the memory of her late husband.

Almanzar says she's proud to still able to give a hand up, helping those in need.

If she could talk to him right now, what would she say?

"That I love him and that I’m proud of him," Almanzar said.

The Islamic Society also provides clothing and job assistance. You can find it at 1460 N. Goldenrod Road.