Project Downtown to offer food and conversation to those less fortunate

Photo: Waleed Mohammad (center), one of the co directors of Project Downtown and an FIU alumnus, talks to visitors gathered for the Friday activities in the parking lot near the Stephen P. Clark Government Center. Photo courtesy of Rayid Sakib. 

Cristina Garcia/Staff Writer

Generally, when Friday afternoon comes around, people are dying to go home, away from daily stresses and the cold. However, on-campus roam a few individuals that ignore the urge to snuggle up in bed, and turn instead towards downtown.

Every Friday, for the last eight years, a group of students meet at the University of Miami around 5 p.m. and lead the way downtown to offer food and conversation to those less fortunate.

The gatherings were started by a small group of students dissatisfied with the community’s treatment of the homeless and needy. Instead of letting their frustrations dissipate, they gathered one afternoon, prepared a modest gift and turned their objections into action.

After the first event, the students joined forces with Muslim Students Association National in 2006 and thus was born Project Downtown.

“Although volunteers are primarily Muslim Students Association members, the event is open to any volunteer,” said Fahad Imam, co-director of the project. “Occasionally we get high school kids, local schools and families involved.”

According to Imam, it’s not uncommon to have families volunteer then be so moved they pledge to come back or help in some way.

Waleed Mohammed, an FIU alumni and co-director, has been involved with the project for over three years. He says that the project is about more than just passing around food.

“One of the most important factors is we listen to how their day was. Oftentimes they get ignored,” he said. “They can get by in terms of basic needs, but they need someone to hear their stories.”

The stereotype of a homeless person is someone on drugs or an alcoholic, but the volunteers say they found the complete opposite.

“We could be in that situation, in line next week. Quite a few are well educated, but down on their luck,” said Mohammad. “Project Downtown is a modest gift from a bunch of poor college students.”

The materials distributed by the volunteers come from two major sources: Project Downtown funds or organizations that prepare food and donate it. According to Imam, the funds are donations from the community, so there are limitations as to what they can do.

According to Rayid Sakib, a junior biomedical major and active volunteer in the project, “volunteers don’t have any specific roles within the project.”

However, there are tasks they all take care of. Volunteers prepare the food, distribute it, socialize with visitors and look after the line.

Sakib said he usually takes care of the line. Volunteers that monitor the line look out for latecomers, making sure to bring them the front of the line so everyone receives at least one serving.

“My first time was as a freshman, but I couldn’t go the next semester. During my sophomore year, I couldn’t stop going. I made sure I didn’t have exams,” he said. “It feels nice to be with them and make a difference in their life.”

Students that want to participate can contact the group at 

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