By Ana Martinez-Ortiz, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service   Published Apr 11, 2020 at 10:01 AM

Editor’s note: At the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, we intentionally celebrate ordinary people who do extraordinary things. We are especially interested in our neighbors who are making a difference as we all deal with the effects of COVID-19. Please let us know by emailing us at

After hearing about the coronavirus pandemic, Shaheen Saiyed headed to the grocery store to stock up on essentials.

While there, Saiyed reflected on her privilege.

"As a mother, I’m stocking up, and I realized there are families who don’t have those resources," she said.

Saiyed knew people were struggling. On top of having children home from school, people were out of jobs, and the pandemic was putting a serious drain on their already limited resources.

As a program manager for Ma’ruf, Saiyed knew she had to do something. The Muslim nonprofit, which opened a youth innovation center last year at 2110 W. Hampton Ave., has been a resource in Milwaukee for years, and Saiyed knew the group would answer her call.

Together with Attari Supermarket, Saiyed created the Maruf Grocery Kit.

The kit contains rice, bread, oil, meat and lentils and is free. It is available at Attari Supermarket, 3042 S. 13th St.; Biryani Palace Grill and Grocery, 5326 S. 27th St.; and Garden of Eden, 1011 W. Historic Mitchell St. If an individual needs a kit, he or she can visit a store and ask for one.

The kits are a standard size for a family of four, and larger families can receive two upon request.

Ma’ruf also is working to connect families to other resources such as sites offering free meal pickup and food pantries.

"Sometimes people need help"

Reziq Attari, who has operated Attari Supermarket since 2004, said he regularly sees people from different nationalities and income levels.

"Sometimes people need help, but they won’t ask unless you offer it to them," Attari said.

He’s been proud of the way people have stepped up to help.

Once the COVID-19 crisis subsides, Attari said he hopes people will continue to come together.

"At the end, we’re all human beings, and we share a lot more than our differences," he said.

The kits are small, Saiyed said, but they mean so much to families who use them.

"If you see there’s a true need, act on it right away," she said.

More on Ma'ruf

Ma’ruf is raising money to supply the kits. So far, it’s raised enough for 200 kits, which cost $40 to sponsor. Local grocers also are welcome to join the effort by calling (951) 880-4911.

In addition to the kits, the center offers mentorship and virtual classes, and is looking to start a teletherapy program to help individuals cope with quarantine and other mental health needs. It recently launched Teachable Moments, which are live interactive lessons focusing on math, science, coding, leadership, character building and more.