two spice donation leaders
Shriya Matta '22 (L) and Mouda Al-Zaydan (R)

The Refugee Center in Albany helps to meet the essential needs of refugee families, but there's one non-essential need that Siena students were proud to deliver.

On behalf of the College's Muslim Student Association and Asian Student Association, Shriya Matta '22 asked what could be done to support refugee families in the Capital Region. The answer surprised her. Spices. 

Many families have their recipes, but they're meaningless without the right ingredients. Plus, some Muslim families new to the country are initially wary of American food, unsure what is halal (permitted for consumption according to Islamic law; many processed foods are not).

So, Shriya put together a shopping list: salt, pepper, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, turmeric, and more. They bought in bulk at Sam's Club and Walmart from MSA and ASA budgets, and Vera Eccarius-Kelly, Ph.D., professor of political science, delivered the spices to incredibly appreciative families. 

"I come from an immigrant family. I have a grandmother who doesn't speak English. She loves to cook - that's how she shows love. So to be able to provide that for someone else is a way that I'm able to keep my grandmother's legacy alive."

Shriya Matta '22

"They're biggest need is spices? It honestly made me giggle because I totally understand the struggle! My family spoke English, but it was still a challenge. So I tried to put myself in these families' shoes. Most don't know the language or where to shop. I think about all they left behind, but they have their recipes. They can still have traditional cooked meals here in the U.S. and sit around a table and enjoy something familiar."

Mouda Al-Zaydan 

MSA and ASA also regularly pack lunches for the guests of Joseph's House, an emergency shelter to more than 1,500 men, women, and children yearly.