Downtown project aids, feeds Orlando homeless
Published: Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 16:06
There are a lot of shoes inside the mosque on West Central Boulevard in downtown Orlando. Sandals, moccasins, dress shoes, tennis shoes. They all sit on a shelf inside the Masjid al-Haq, where followers of Islam walk barefoot inside their holy place. But outside, a line of people down the side of the mosque stand barefoot, too. They have no shoes, no socks, no sandals to call their own. And most of them have no home to call their own, either.
They come for help from Project Downtown Orlando, a student-run Islamic humanitarian organization that provides aid to homeless and impoverished communities. The Orlando chapter, which celebrated its fifth anniversary this past Sunday, meets on the first and third Sundays of every month to share food, drinks, toiletries and friendly faces. About 20 people, a mix of Muslims and non-Muslims, students and graduates, men and women, arrive at the mosque at 8 a.m. and set to work until 10 a.m., although they often stay later to chat with the men and women living on the street.
“It’s good, it’s beautiful,” said Otis Parish, a 57-year-old homeless man. “They talk to you right, treat you like a person. All they want to do is give you food. … They treat you like you one of them.”
The group serves between 150 to 175 men and women every Sunday. Most come from the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida across the street, where a dollar buys you a hot meal and a shower for one night.
The men and women of the mosque put together hot meals for those in need. Bagels, eggs, hash browns and even jelly and jam packets were lined up on tables outside the mosque, along with water, coffee and coolers full of sweet drinks. After they picked up their meal, each person received a hygiene kit that contained toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, Q-tips, combs and soap.
Most of Project Downtown’s funds and wares come from food drives and donations from local businesses.
“The community was really supportive,” said Muhammad Adam, a UCF graduate who is also a director of the program. “From a business aspect, it was so much easier than I thought to get funding. … It all goes directly to helping the homeless. People can see an instant gratification with their money.”
Adam notes that they also coordinate with other humanitarian organizations such as the Coalition to see what the homeless need the most. In recent months, they’ve also handed out sunglasses, ponchos, tote bags and first-aid kits.
“The people here have come a long way since they been here,” said John Furotick, 58, who was homeless until about three months ago when he was able to afford minimal housing. “A lot of people come to be part of the ministry. I think that’s made a difference. … I’m proud of them, in a spiritual way.”
Project Downtown Orlando, although influenced by Muslim teachings and mostly made up of Muslims, is not exclusive to members of the Islamic faith. All denominations are always welcome to assist in any way. The group also passes out flyers for Islam to the homeless and begins the day by reading a passage from the Quran in Arabic and English for its members.
“It’s a bonus,” said Alya Kutik, a senior majoring in political science. “The point isn’t to spread Islam. The point is to help the community.”
Sophomore nursing major Yasmin Abdu has gotten to know some of the people through the project.
“You start to recognize the faces and remember their names,” Abdu said. “A lot of people have misperceptions about the homeless. You really get to know them and sit down and have a conversation with them.”
Furotick knows first-hand how Project Downtown Orlando has helped homeless and impoverished people.
“A hungry person will do anything to eat,” Furotick said. “A person without money may not do anything violent, but a hungry person will. [This project] keeps them from becoming violent.”
For more information, visit projectdowntown.org. Project Downtown Orlando’s next event will be on Sunday, June 25, to avoid conflicting with another event of a nonprofit organization on June 18.