One of the last pictures Deah Barakat posted to his Facebook page shows volunteers giving food and dental supplies to a long line of homeless men – an example of the slain man’s spirit.
His late wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, stands at the end of the table in that 2014 picture, passing out toothbrushes and plates of hot lunch.
With the memory of their generosity in mind, a Raleigh outreach group held its third food drive Saturday in hopes of collecting enough donations to make more than 58,000 meals for the needy, passing last year’s total.
Volunteers filled a truck outside the Islamic Association of Raleigh, sorting cans of green beans, packets of oatmeal and trays of yakisoba noodles, bound for families across the eastern half of the state.
As he watched them, organizer Shadi Sadi noted that help came from Baptist churches and Jewish temples, a widespread group honoring three Muslim college students killed in 2015 – family members who spent their lives offering the same sort of aid.
“That’s what we need,” said Sadi, who works with The Light House project in Raleigh. “The reason they were killed was the hate and misunderstanding. Here’s a way we can all get together.”
Three years ago, gunfire killed Barakat, 23, Abu-Salha, 21, and her 19-year-old sister Razan at their condominium in Chapel Hill. Barakat was studying dentistry at UNC-Chapel Hill, which his wife planned to enter in the fall. Razan Abu-Salha majored in architecture and environmental design at N.C. State University, and she was known to volunteer feeding the homeless in downtown Raleigh.
A neighbor, Craig Hicks, 48, is accused in their murder. Police have said the shooting stemmed from a longstanding parking dispute. Family members have suggested religious bias played a role in the violence.
The drive benefits the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, which serves 34 counties. Though the nonperishable food collection finished Saturday, patrons can still make an online donation.
Food Bank community giving specialist Chandler Rock said 600,000 people qualify as “food insecure” within the 34-county area, meaning that for a variety of reasons, they don’t know where to find their next meal.
In its first year, the drive gathered enough food for 21,000 meals, a total that doubled in 2017.
“We’re getting further away from the tragedy but donations are increasing,” Sadi said. “Why is that? I think a lot of people are going through grief of their own. I’ve had moms come up to me and say, ‘Since this happened, I lost a child.’ This has become more personal.”