For the Nassers, service is a family tradition spanning generations – a common thread binding them together through good times and bad.
In the midst of a pandemic, their volunteer work has become more important than ever.
“We’re healthy, we’re happy,” Naser Nasser said about himself and his two teenage daughters, Mya and Dana. “Other people are not.”
“If you can keep doing good, keep giving back, I think there’s nothing wrong with that,” the family patriarch, 46, continued. “And I think the more you do, the better off you are, no matter what position you are in life.”
The Nassers, a Yemeni American family who live in the city’s Sauganash neighborhood, started volunteering at the Greater Chicago Food Depository about six years ago. Over the years, they have also helped out at a Food Depository partner pantry near their neighborhood.
In March, the heightened need caused by the pandemic prompted a greater demand for volunteers. While his job as an immigration consultant was temporarily on hold, Naser started coming to the Food Depository nearly every day to pack emergency food boxes.
His work has picked back up, but he still manages to volunteer once or twice a week, now with his daughters at his side.
The importance of giving back is something that Naser said was instilled in him by his father, Mohammed. After Mohammed emigrated from Yemen in 1965, he helped other Yemeni immigrants come to the U.S. Naser’s father sponsored them, helped them secure jobs at the steel factory where he became a supervisor and taught them how to fill out citizenship paperwork. He even offered the basement of his Albany Park two-flat for some of them to live rent-free until they got on their feet.
“So many families came through him, and remember him to this day,” Naser said about his late father.
As he got older and had a family of his own, Naser realized that something in his life was missing.
“When I started doing volunteer work, I thought, this is it,” he said. “This is the satisfaction I don’t get in regular life.”
It’s a similar feeling for his oldest, 17-year-old Mya, who described volunteering at the Food Depository as her way of showing gratitude for all she’s been given in life.
“My age, younger, older – nobody should have to face food insecurity,” she said. “It’s not an easy thing to go through. I’m so grateful that I don’t have to go through that, or it’s not something that is a struggle in my life. Coming here is a way to express my gratitude and feel connected to my community.”
The family’s acts of kindness continue to ripple out. Naser has started his own nonprofit to organize service opportunities for young people. He’s calling the organization Take a Stand, with the hopes of one day passing it along to his daughters.
“I want them to take a stand and take over this volunteering thing,” he explained. “And maybe even make it into something bigger, hopefully.”
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