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The president of the board of directors at Concord’s Noor Islamic and Cultural Community Center, Sedique Popal, tells the story of the hummingbird fighting a raging forest fire while all the other animals fled for their lives.

“The hummingbird kept coming back to the fire with a few drops of water, and would extinguish little bits of fire,” Popal said. “Finally, a lion said ‘What are you doing? You need to flee. You can’t put out this fire.’”

“The hummingbird said ‘No, we cannot put out this fire. But we can do our part.’”

Popal and his congregation know they can’t solve the current crisis in Afghanistan, as people struggle to flee the Taliban. The United States officially ended operations in the war-torn nation on Monday, having evacuated more than 123,000 people in one of the largest air evacuations of its kind in history.

Congregants of the Noor Islamic and Cultural Community Center kneel in prayer in an undated image. The Concord-based group is accepting donations and working with local leaders to help find housing for displaced Afghans. (Image courtesy of Noor Islamic and Cultural Community Center)

But Popal and his congregation want to do their part. The University of San Francisco linguistics professor is leading a charge to gather care packages to support Afghan refugees with basic needs as they re-start their lives in a brand-new country.

Popal led a meeting of about 100 people Sunday, local officials, Muslims, non-Muslims, Christians … anyone interested in helping was welcome.

The gathering kicked off an effort to garner donations of funds and supplies for care packages, consisting of clothes, toiletry items, housewares — whatever can be used by refugees as they settle half a world away from where the Taliban has re-taken their country.

“These people are running for their lives,” Popal said. “There are other groups working on housing. People are saying they can accommodate families.

“People are extremely kind — that’s America.”

As many resources as possible

Popal is working with members of the Concord City Council and Congressman Mark DeSaulnier’s office on possible housing sites. Another meeting will likely occur Tuesday to nail down more details.

Popal said he has heard some families will re-locate in the Sacramento area, others in the Bay Area. He wants to be ready with as many resources as possible.

“We’ll create these care packages and deliver them to wherever they come,” Popal said. “They’re coming with nothing in their hands. We’ll go to Sacramento if we have to.”

It could still take weeks for refugees to arrive in the U.S. They are being processed and screened at U.S. bases overseas, with officials planning as they go.

“We’ll create these care packages and deliver them to wherever they come. They’re coming with nothing in their hands. We’ll go to Sacramento if we have to.”

Sedique Popal, Noor Islamic and Cultural Community Center

Popal would eventually like to host a welcome gathering at the center, where the mission is to help Muslim immigrants assimilate to the Bay Area. The congregation is made up of 262 families, not all of whom are Muslim. Everyone is welcome and some events draw as many as 1,000 people.

For its care packages, the center is asking for new clothing of all sizes, socks, undergarments, sweaters and blouses, shirts, pants, skirts, and shoes. Toiletries needed include feminine products, diapers, baby wipes, soap, tooth brushes and toothpaste. Houseware needs include new blankets, new pillows, paper towels, napkins, prayer rugs, pots and pans.

Donations can be made online. The Noor Islamic and Cultural Community Center is located 4035 Treat Blvd. in Concord.