Baltimore nurse practitioner offers free medical help, shelter for Muslim women despite COVID-19 challenges

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By YVONNE WENGER
BALTIMORE SUN |
OCT 13, 2020

Chili Bowl Sunday founder, Asma Hanif, right, assists Charles Callahan, 67, by holding his bowl of chili as a volunteer offers water, at the annual event held near the Fallsway underpass. The free food event, sponsored by Inge Benevolent Ministries in association with the Muslim Al Nisaa Shelter, has been taking place on Super Bowl Sunday for 25 years, according to Hanif.
Chili Bowl Sunday founder, Asma Hanif, right, assists Charles Callahan, 67, by holding his bowl of chili as a volunteer offers water, at the annual event held near the Fallsway underpass. The free food event, sponsored by Inge Benevolent Ministries in association with the Muslim Al Nisaa Shelter, has been taking place on Super Bowl Sunday for 25 years, according to Hanif. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun)

Asma Inge-Hanif’s desire to be a “Good Samaritan” led her to use her home in Northwest Baltimore to welcome Muslim women fleeing domestic violence. That’s the same reason the nurse practitioner says she is compelled to give free physicals to kids and blood pressure screenings to seniors, organize clothing drives and share food with people experiencing homelessness.

She works to keep marginalized communities from being deprived of the health care, resources and stability that she says she witnessed many African Americans go without when she was growing up in the segregated South.

“The work I do is helping others,” Inge-Hanif said. “It should not be something special. It should be the norm. Any and everybody can be a Good Samaritan.”

Inge-Hanif, recently named outstanding philanthropist of the year by the Maryland chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, operates the nonprofit Inge Benevolent Ministries. The group is named for her father J.T. Inge who was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for helping to integrate the Armed Forces in the 1940s along with the other Montford Point Marines.

She said she has offered humanitarian services for nearly a half-century since she was an undergraduate student at Howard University. She received her advanced nursing training at Medical University of South Carolina and became a chaplain after completing her master’s degree in divinity at the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

Inge-Hanif opened her first shelter in 2007 in a home she rented after hearing again and again that Muslim women felt uncomfortable, and sometimes unwelcome, in other shelters for domestic violence survivors. Women told Inge-Hanif they felt Christian doctrine was imposed on them in some settings, or they sensed others were intolerant of their religious beliefs.

Later Inge-Hanif said she used money inherited from her mother to purchase a house between Baltimore County and the city. The shelter’s address is not publicized to protect the women.

Her Muslimat Al Nisaa shelters had been operating in two locations, serving as many as 50 women at a time. Her nonprofit also operated Healthy Solutions clinic at 3708 Liberty Heights Avenue offering certain services for free and others such as women’s reproductive health care for a fee.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the nonprofit’s shelters and the clinic hard. The organization has roughly $270,000 in expenses a year, according to budget documents she provided The Baltimore Sun.

Inge-Hanif says she is running a deficit this year, even though she doesn’t pay herself a salary, has no staff and lives in the shelter with the women she serves. She maximizes her ability to help with the assistance of her four grown kids, their families and other volunteers.

She has no grant writer, so landing big donations has been next to impossible, Inge-Hanif said. And her fundraising challenges have been made worse by a loss of revenue from the clinical services she stopped providing during the pandemic. She hopes to resume the services as soon as the risk of contagion passes.

Also, the group was evicted early this year from one of the properties used as a shelter because she fell behind on the rent. With the loss of the space, Inge-Hanif said the organization can only serve half as many women as normal.

With her capacity cut in half, Inge-Hanif said that she is turning away women and children, often in desperate situations.

Even with the clinic closed to patients for the time being, Inge-Hanif is reaching out to the families she’s served over the years to check on their needs and direct them to testing sites if they report COVID-19 symptoms. She also purchased masks and handed them out to people seeking money on street corners.

Samantha Flottemesch, president of the state chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, said Inge-Hanif has an outsize impact in spite of her fundraising challenges. The organization spotlighted Inge-Hanif, she said, as a way to recognize more broadly what philanthropy means outside of fancy galas and million-dollar budgets.

“She is really giving of her herself, her time and her treasure,” Flottemesch said. “She is very closely tied to the community, and she is doing the everyday, grassroots job of taking care of people.”

As anti-Muslim rhetoric worsens, interfaith efforts grow »
Although Inge-Hanif is Muslim and her shelter is designed to serve women of the same faith tradition, she said the scared texts for Christians, Jews and Muslims are similar and she tries to abide by them all in her service of others.

“We are souls in harmony,” she said. “I am just a regular person who wanted to make a difference in the life of others.”

Editor’s Note: This story is part of series that profiles newsmakers from diverse communities in the Baltimore region.

Yvonne Wenger writes about poverty, social welfare and all matters that stand in the way of a thriving Maryland. She’s written about veterans affairs, Baltimore politics and governance and communities working to overcome the legacy of structural racism. Wenger grew up in Lancaster, Pa. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and daughter.

source: https://www.baltimoresun.com/health/bs-hs-newsmaker-clinic-muslim-shelter-20201013-f6kn3efgrjbthcnjeio3xludfq-story.html

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