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Project Downtown Serving Homeless During Islamic Holy Month

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As dusk settled near Gainesville City Hall on Wednesday, Muslims reaching their fourteenth hour of abstaining from food and water used their remaining energy to feed others in need.

Project Downtown Gainesville, a nonprofit charity started around 2007 in Gainesville, provided meals for the homeless during the last 10 days of Ramadan, a month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.

Most volunteers involved with the non-profit were observing Ramadan. They are often hungry themselves when handing out food to others.

“It really makes you appreciate how blessed we are to always have access to food when we need it,” said Mahmoud Aryan, internal coordinator for organization.

The purpose of the fast is to bring Muslims closer to God and remind them of those less fortunate.

“The Quran and the Islamic faith, as well as our basic human values, emphasize taking care of your neighbors and people who are less fortunate than you in the community,” said Ali-Abdel Halim, director of Project Downtown.

“Ramadan is a time when our bodies feel what it’s like to go without food, and we are able to reflect on things that we take for granted daily,” Halim said. “During Ramadan, it’s especially important to try to give and share as much as possible with your family and community.” 

He said Project Downtown has been fortunate enough to have the capability to do something meaningful for people who often struggle to find meals.

Funded by donations from local mosques, Halim said dinners have included catering from Mi Apa Latin Cafe and Zaxby’s. The volunteers bring enough food so people are able to ask for second helpings and often times thirds.

“The organization serves as a beacon of social activism for Muslim communities at large,” he said.

However, he said it is a non-denominational organization and all individuals are welcome to participate.

“The organization began with just a few college students, like ourselves, who were unhappy and fed up with the way they saw homeless citizens treated.”

John Bauer, a homeless war veteran who spent four years in the Middle East, said it’s a blessing they are doing this service. He said after 5 p.m., there aren’t alternative options for people like himself.

“I am not friends with them because they’re Muslim. I’m friends with them because they’re good people,” Bauer said.

After July 17, the meals will continue to be served every Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. and usually last until the last person in line has received food.

“For the last few years, Project Downtown hasn’t missed a single scheduled service,” Halim said.

Volunteers for Project Downtown also aims to connect with people who are facing difficult situations, said Irfaan Hafeez, former director of Project Downtown.

He believes that providing a meal, a hand to help and an ear to listen can help get some people back on their feet.

Previously, Project Downtown has helped people reunite with family members, provided temporary housing and helped people find jobs.

“We do various projects throughout the year like winter clothing drives and hygiene drives. In the past, we have collaborated with the UF College of Medicine to provide health fairs and free assessments,” Halim said.

Project Downtown was awarded the 2015 E.T. York Work of Heart Award as an outstanding nonprofit group on July 10.

The organization hopes to have enough funding in the future to be able to provide meals all 30 days of Ramadan, Halim said.

“We’re out there every week of the year and have been for many years,” Halim said. “We hope to continue doing the same in the future.”

About Komal Junejo

Komal is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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