In front of Gainesville City Hall, lines of people wait for food amid the sound of the humming and buzzing of hair clippers.
On some weekends like this, barbers partner with Project Downtown Gainesville and HOPE Meals to provide food and haircuts free of charge to homeless individuals.
Every Saturday and Sunday, Project Downtown Gainesville sets up camp in the same spot, where volunteers provide hot meals and other resources for individuals facing homelessness. HOPE Meals also provides food on a biweekly basis. The barbers try to provide free cuts at least once a month.
“Somebody take a picture of me or something,” one man shouted after receiving his haircut, “I’m looking too good right now.”
Ju-Ray Kuo is a barber at Fame of Fadez barbershop and a graduate student at the University of Florida. He is also the unofficial barber for the men’s basketball team at the school.
“If we can help people out where they’re currently at in life,” Kuo said, “we can eventually take them to interviews and get them off the streets.”
Project Downtown, or PD for short, was created in 2007. It was founded on religious principles from Islam but is not exclusively Muslim.
According to the organization’s website, the group aims to “bridge the gap in disparities” and “(make) the world a better place for all.”
“We don’t gatekeep helping people,” said Iftishamul Nihal, the current president of Project Downtown. Every weekend, PD hands out between 120 and 150 meals. Most volunteers are students at the University of Florida.
Nihal stressed that anybody can be a part of PD if they are interested.
“With the university being in the city, it gives us a great volunteer base,” Nihal said, “Our main thing we advertise is “city hall, Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. we’re here.”
Faith-based organization HOPE Meals was founded in 2018 by UF alumna Veronica Mentor. HOPE stands for “Helping Our People Eat.”
The organization partners with different groups on the university’s campus to pack and distribute between 50-80 meals and blankets each time. The meals that are distributed typically come with a “HOPE handout” that includes a Bible verse chosen by volunteers, and information on career and health resources.
Volunteers say that the handouts are there to help encourage and push individuals through the most difficult times.