"I love them," Mike Holloway, 39, who recently moved from North Carolina to Miami-Dade County for a warmer weather, told IslamOnline.net.
"To understand those less fortunate than you, says a lot," he added wearing a shirt he got several months ago from the student group.
Every week the Project Downtown members go down to the parking lot of the government building at First St to distribute food and clothes on a group of around 100 homeless people.
"The team makes sure to only provide food they themselves would eat," Ahmed Howeedy, a fourth year medical student at University of South Florida in Tampa and a PD member, told IOL.
"PD is working on getting sponsors from different companies and bakeries to supply them with food."
Members from the community donate food, clothes, time, and money.
"The money is usually donated by members of the community or by volunteers themselves," said Howeedy.
Many non-Muslims come out every Friday to volunteer.
"This is what we want. PD wants to see people coming together, regardless of background or belief," said Howeedy.
Project Downtown was founded in the spring of 2006 by a group of six students to bring benefit to the society.
The membership has swelled to 50 in the past few months which students credit to positive feedback and continual contributions from their community.
According to census estimates from July 2006, there around 5,015 homeless people in Miami-Dade County, home to nearly 2.4 million.
Project Downtown was so successful, that the Miami team presented the idea to Muslim Student Association (MSA) national, who wanted to sponsor the project and nationalize it.
The PD Miami team presented the project at the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) conference to over 200 students.
The Muslim students do not just to pass out meals, but socialize with the homeless.
"Some think it is merely about food," said Howeedy.
"It is not. There are many organizations that go out and feed. But Project Downtown doesn't deal with empty stomachs, it deals with empty hearts," added the Muslim medical student.
The PD members insist that some of the homeless, who often feel forgotten as members of society, are actually very educated and talented.
"The PD teams make sure not just to pass out meals, but to talk with them, ask of their concerns and know their names," said Howeedy.
"We have developed a relationship of love with our friends."
Some of the homeless in downtown Tampa complain that people come out and feed them like if they were animals.
But they say PD teams are different because they feel their love and care when they gather with them.
"One Friday in Miami, while sandwiches, lemonade and smiles were going around, one particular older African American woman came up to me and asked me 'Is this all free?'," Howeedy recalled.
She asked one of our team why we were doing this and when she explained to her that it is our Muslim duty to help the community wherever and whenever help is needed, the lady just hugged her and said: "You Muslims are beautiful."
The Muslim students are not contended with feeding the homeless and giving them clothes.
They are trying to help their "downtown friends" to rise from the ashes.
"They are educated and hard workers, but have had some set back in their lives that they have not been able to bounce back from," said Howeedy.
"And we simply put out our hand to help them back up."
Recently the PD team brought a bus downtown and accompanied their downtown friends to an open house, where they ate, listened to lectures, and had free health screenings.
Muslim mosques and advocacy groups use open houses, especially during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, to enhance the understanding of Islam among Americans of all faiths.
"We have also facilitated many of them to have an outlet to use their talents, such as helping Orlando sharing his poetry with others, and Jerold speaking on homelessness at the Hunger and Homeless awareness week at University of South Florida," said Howeedy.
"The Tampa team has had its first success in helping Jerold off the streets and now he has a full time job. The PD Tampa team helped him secure an apartment."
Several websites, such as militantislammonitor.org and pipelinews.org, have criticized the Muslim students group.
They claim that the students are distributing copies of the Qur'an and Islamic propaganda along with the sandwiches and recycled clothes.
"PD doesn't do this as a publicity stunt, we are not doing this to improve the image of Muslims, and we are not doing this to convert others," insisted Howeedy
"No. We do this because Allah commands it, and Allah loves it, and we want to do what Allah loves and encourage others to do what Allah loves," he added.
''What has happened is that the more people saw them, the more they began expressing interest in their beliefs," said Altaf Ali, executive director of the Florida Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
"If they ask for a copy, they get one. But one of the things Islam does not do is proselytize. We lead by example."
Ali, who worked with the students at a Feed the Homeless event in Pompano Beach in October, said he was impressed with their energy.
"They're a very modest group. It's because of them the project has excelled."Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16