“Communities of Hope” features Detroiters from communities of color who have been looking for ways to persevere during the pandemic.
Ferizovic came to Hamtramck as a refugee from Bosnia as a 12-year-old with her family in 1996.
“It was a traumatizing experience … coming into a country where I didn’t speak the language and then just being thrown into eighth grade after not attending school for so long because we were in the war,” says Ferizovic.
Her family was one of the thousands who left Bosnia to start a new life in America in the late 1990s.
Ferizovic says people helped her family get on their feet and learn the ropes of life in America. That’s what inspired her to give back too.
“I always had a strong sense of having to give back to this community because it gave me so much at that time. So finally, when I was able, at the age of 32 to open my own nonprofit organization to help and give this community back, that’s exactly what I did,” she says.
Around 2015, Ferizovic and other community organizers came together to provide essential items for Syrian refugees who came to Hamtramck. She reached out to family and friends on social media to raise awareness and funds.
“At this time. I did not have my nonprofit organization,” she says. “I posted on Facebook items that were needed if anybody wanted to donate and it was such a positive outcome that I figured I really need to do this. I had a lot of my friends who reached out.”
Together they raised funds to purchase items for nine families, a total of 37 people. That project created a ripple effect in the community.
“After that, it just kind of took off. A lot of people were reaching out to me even when I wouldn’t ask for donations, they will reach out to me and tell me, ‘Hey, I have children’s clothes. It’s gently used. Do you have a family that might use that?’” she says.
In 2018, Ferizovic eventually quit her job and opened J&E Community Relief, which provides a food pantry and helps people get back on their feet.
Then the pandemic hit. The organization saw an influx of people needing assistance.
Shortly afterward there was a statewide lockdown, preventing people from being helped in person. Ferizovic and the nonprofit had to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to help people.
She began arranging drive-through food pickups. An influx of volunteers and a lot of new ones showed up to help.
“We even had volunteers deliver food as far as Highland Park and some even Dearborn and Dearborn Heights. So the community was great. I feel like everybody was in it together and everybody noticed like, ‘Hey, this is a very challenging time and we need to step up’ and that’s exactly what they did,” she says.
Ferizovic says she relies on donors a lot. They pay the rent and utilities so the lights and heat stay on — a huge challenge during the pandemic.
Passion and Commitment
One donor who continues to help is Merima Kekić, owner of Hot Spot Hair Salon in Clinton Township. Kekić is also Bosnian, coming to the U.S. with her family as a teenager.
She met Ferizovic while doing her hair one day.
“I contribute I would say probably every couple months financially and if I’m able to provide a service that is beneficial to them, I always am able to have that available as well,” says Kekić.
Kekić says she is blown away by Ferizovic’s passion and commitment for the nonprofit.
“There was one point where Emina had all of these … refugees. They had just entered the country and they were missing a lot of hygiene products. And her mom and family members drove the kids out of their way from like Hamtramck and Detroit to get haircuts. And I mean, hauled them in like multiple vans. And she did all that from the kindness of her heart,” she says.
Besides individual donors, Ferizovic says other organizations like Gleaners Community Food Bank have stepped in to make a difference during the pandemic.
Usually, J&E Community Relief pays a discounted price to purchase items from the food bank to distribute for free to those in need. But during the early days of the pandemic, Gleaners was able to provide food through government grants.
“They started delivering a huge produce truck to us twice a month. So we will get like 30, 40,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetable to give out to the communities and there were a lot of free boxes. They were called produce boxes where they had a bunch of produce already packed and ready to distribute,” says Ferizovic.
Hamtramck resident Roqaya Abdul says the nonprofit provides important services in the community. She says Ferizovic goes out of her way to help people.
“Oh, she helped me so much. She’s just the kind of person, I remember, when they had they had distributions of food … She had some donated kids stuff, baby stuff, clothing. I remember asking her one time if she would have anything in my girl sizes. One time I asked her for my daughter, if they had a car seat or stroller and she was like, ‘Yes I do, come,’” says Abdul.
Abdul says she first learned about the nonprofit through Instagram when she saw people sharing Ferizovic’s posts to raise funds for those in need.
Before the pandemic J&E Community Relief also hosted a youth center twice a week with food, computers and different workshops for to help kids with their homework and to provide residents with mental health resources. Feizovic says it was one of her favorite services provided by the nonprofit before the pandemic.
“This is my favorite room. A lot of fun happens here. Some kids come just to play video games, some come to do research do homework, but this room is always packed and a lot of fun is happening,” she says.
Ferizovic says she hopes to reopen the youth center in 2022.
J&E Community Relief opened to provide essential services for people going through a hard time only to find itself struggling through the pandemic. Although it lost some donors during the pandemic, the nonprofit has survived by creating a community made up of area residents, volunteers and supporting organizations.
Ferizovic has managed to show that Metro Detroiters can lean on each other during hard times, whether it’s a nonprofit helping neighbors or neighbors giving a nonprofit a new breath of life.
Listen: J&E Community Relief works to meet increased demand during the pandemic.