Woodland Peace Picnic Brings All Communities Together
By Ras H. Siddiqui
The City of Woodland, California is just 20 miles outside of Sacramento and a stone’s throw north of Davis, famous for its University of California campus. Not much is heard about Woodland but one aspect one cannot overlook is that it is a spiritual community, one which hosted a “Peace Picnic” on October 18 th arranged jointly by the Woodland Mosque and Woodland Ecumenical Ministries (with the blessings of the American Muslim Voice Foundation) to foster goodwill amongst the area’s religious diversity. And it turned out to be quite an afternoon as live music, various outdoor games (the weather was perfect) and servings of Pakistani food, together with representation from the local police K-9 unit and the Woodland Fire Department.
As I walked into the picnic venue at Ferns Park a Christian Rock Band by the name of “The Last Minute” was playing and singing a moving song “Met a man on the street last night...” while families in varying attire slowly arrived. This was where blue jeans and skirts merged with the Pakistani shalwaar-kameez outfits and head coverings of various types were represented (hats, hijabs and dupattas). Due to the large number of Muslims present, the event reflected an almost Eid-like flavor being shared with the local mainstream.
In attendance was Woodland Mayor Tom Stallard whom I had an opportunity to speak with. Tom explained that Woodland was an agriculture-based economy (mainly fruit) which was coming out of the national recession quite nicely. With over 150 related businesses, about 25 fruit processors and one of (if not) the largest tomato canning operations in the world, Pacific Coast Producers or PCP, and the headquarters of The Morning Star Company, a huge operation with canneries around the world including in Turkey. With a population of 57,000 people more or less, Woodland is growing. It also has its own Mosque now on North Street, said the Mayor. “Everybody is welcome. This is a very diverse community. Forty-six percent of our people are Hispanic,” said the Mayor.
I also took the opportunity to speak with Officer Olson of the local police K-9 unit who along with his dog Mondo was a big hit with the community kids. I asked him how long a trained dog like Mondo could stay in service and he said that it varies not just by breed but by individual dogs but on its health. The average age he said was around 5 to 7 years of working life but that Mondo was nine-and-a-half and still extremely healthy. He added that the decision on whether a dog should retire is a joint one by the command staff, veterinarians, the accompanying officer and the trainer. He said that they look for sociability in dogs for police work.
A bit later after several parachute ball tosses, area luminary and President of the American Muslim Voice Foundation Khalid Saeed took the opportunity to address the picnic gathering on behalf of the Muslim community. Khalid described the community as a “salad bowl” and not a melting pot. Everybody should appear as they are, everybody should get along and we should love each other and we should get together like this and have fun, he said. He added that he appreciated everybody that came here that day, especially those who brought and set up the games and especially the band (The Last Minute). He recognized some people in the gathering, especially Larry Love, and called Mayor Tom Stallard to formally address the event.
Mayor Stallard thanked everybody for coming out and talked about three main points: Transparency, Sustainability and Community. He said that decision making should be inclusive of everybody, we should treat our environment like we do ourselves and we should want to help one another. The Mayor revisited his campaign slogan “Let’s put the unity in community” and added that he could not be happier with an event like today. Whatever name we use for God, he said that we have to unlearn our differences and learn to live in peace.
Before jointly breaking bread (naan and rice in this case) Reverend Bill Schroeder blessed the gathering and offered a prayer for peace everywhere. He said that we thank God for this beautiful day and the sharing of our lives together and that we are grateful to all the people who strive for peace throughout our world. He asked God to bless our food and a continuance of our sharing this beautiful life together.
Food catered from the Kabab Corner Restaurant in West Sacramento was served to the hundreds in attendance and this reporter can vouch for the fact that it was all gone in very little time. The City of Woodland Fire Department also arrived with their truck, an added attraction for the kids present. Fire Captain Chris Delcour was there with his team to answer any questions. It was good to see that some of the Muslim community kids are now possibly looking at careers with the local Fire Department and Police units because the level of interest at this picnic in the two was high.
Imam Aamir Hussain of the Woodland Mosque was busy throughout the afternoon answering questions and meeting friends. On his direction I made it to the Mosque on 1023 North Street and took some pictures both inside and outside of this relatively new place of worship in the area.