Oula Alshaar and daughter Annabella show up as Batgirls at the New England Arab American Organization’s Eid celebration May 22 at the Westbrook Community Center. Chance Viles / American Journal

This year’s regional Eid celebration was again held drive-up style because of the pandemic, but participants were still all smiles at the Westbrook Community Center Saturday.

The New England Arab American Organization gave families ingredients for meals and handed out toys for children to celebrate Eid al-Fitr.  The Muslim holiday marks the end of Ramadan, a monthlong period of fasting and self-reflection.

Walid Moumneh, left, president of the New England Arab American Organization, helps Biddeford resident Nizar Masoud with some Eid gifts Saturday at a drive-up celebration in Westbrook. Chance Viles / American Journal

The group usually hosts an event filled with food, music and festive costumes at the Portland Expo that draws thousands, though that was canceled this year and last year. Participants and NEAAO members said Saturday they look forward to its return, but that they were still excited Saturday for the opportunity to see one another and to celebrate the holiday in some way.

“Things are already improving. Last year this parking lot was empty,” NEAAO President Walid Moumneh said. “This year people are arriving early, and there is so much life and happiness.”

“The pandemic has been so isolating,” he said.  “I want to show people though that we can do something to get back to normal and together again. It has been hard for many to cope.”


Mhassn Gebo of Westbrook picks out a doll for her daughter, while her son behind her seeks out a Star Wars- themed toy at the drive-thru Eid celebration Saturday. Chance Viles / American Journal

About 20 volunteers handed out over 125 meal kits that included dried beans, rice, ghee and grape leaves. The food and the toys were donated by volunteers or other organizations, according to NEAAO Executive Director Zoe Sahloul. Volunteers also dressed as princesses to entertain the kids.

“This is exciting. We came last year and it is good to have something,” Westbrook resident Mhassan Ghebo said, picking up food and toys for her sons.

NEAAO employee Oula Alshaar and daughter Annabelle showed up in a car decorated with flowers, both dressed as Batgirl.

“It’s good to see people,” Oula Alshaar said.

Another difference this year was a doctor on-site to book families for appointments or get one right at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Community Center that day.

Moumneh said vaccination clinics can be difficult to access for non-English speaking residents and that some Muslims may be wary of the vaccine for a number of reasons, including general misinformation. To help inspire Saturday’s Eid  attendees to get vaccinated, Moumneh stood outdoors unmasked next to the doctor to show families that he received his shots without any issues.

“A big part of getting people vaccinated is attracting them, and we felt like along with free meals and toys was a perfect way to do that,” Sahloul said.

Through a partnership with the state Department of Health and Human Services, the New England Arab American Organization is planning a mobile vaccination clinic. Dates and locations are still being finalized.

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