Press Release

Zakat Foundation’s Halil and Donna Demir Win ARISE Chicago Award

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CHICAGO (Nov. 19) — ARISE Chicago, a workers and faith-community alliance for workplace justice, honored Zakat Foundation of America’s Executive Director Halil Demir and its Health Advisor Donna Demir, RN, with its highest annual honor, the 2020 Arise Chicago Faithful Leadership Award for exemplary service “fighting workplace injustice through education, organizing, and advocating for public policy changes.” 

“We need people like you, Halil and Donna, to help feed the hungry and to give shelter to refugees, but we also need you to help transform our city and our world into places of compassion,” said ARISE Board Member Rev. Marshall Hatch of New Mount Pilgrim Church in Chicago’s historic South Side Bronzeville neighborhood, who presented the award. 

This year’s ceremony took place virtually due to the alarming spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the award-winning couple on the Turkish-Syrian border, helping orphaned Syrian refugee children. 

“With the struggle of ARISE, who raised the banner of social justice for the working class, and then Zakat Foundation — with us all the way here in Turkey close to the Syrian border to take care of orphans — I thought, what a great combination we are, and what unique unity of humanitarian spirit this brings together!” said Halil Demir in accepting the award. 

Ahmed Rehab, Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Chicago director, delivered the award program’s keynote address. 

“Halil and Donna are extraordinary human beings — ever joyful, ever hopeful, ever ready to pour compassion out to those in dire need,” Rehab said. “For 20 years, Zakat Foundation has served humanity by giving direct aid — food, water, shelter, clothing — in 50 countries and 220 U.S. cities.” 

“When war broke out in Syria 9 years ago, Zakat Foundation was on the ground before even the [big-name charities]. 

“They established K-through-college schools in Turkey for Syrian children, now with 2,000 Syrians [refugee students] taught by Syrian [refugee] teachers. 

“When the explosion in Lebanon happened, Zakat Foundation was clearing rubble off the roads for emergency vehicles to get through.  

“When [American] workers have been on picket lines, Zakat Foundation brought them food, water, and, most importantly, solidarity,” Rehab said. 

He made special note of the humanitarian couple’s direct service. 

“When George Floyd was murdered in Minnesota, Halil personally brought material support to protesters. When mothers grieved for children killed by police, Donna gathered the Latina and African American mothers together in downtown Chicago for a rally and a march.” 

“We strongly believe in the dignity of humanity,” said award-recipient Donna Demir. “We’ve been there for the marches, for teachers, nurses, factory workers, hotel workers. And we will continue to do whatever it is we need to do to help humanity, whether it’s there at home in Chicago marching for civil rights, or for anybody at all who’s downtrodden.” 

Halil Demir said his reflection on winning the award helped him “figure out” the real, mutual vision of the two charities.  

“Share love. Give love. Live love. And that’s why we at Zakat Foundation are part of the struggle of ARISE Chicago.”