Hajjah Kamara, a USF student majoring in international studies, organizes the Tampa chapter. Every Friday, the volunteers meet outside of the Marshall Student Center at 5 P.M. The group starts with an opening huddle, where Kamara and her assistants explain the plans for the night. Then, the volunteers split up into different groups to cover separate locations, such as the Salvation Army, Women and Children’s Center, the Good Samaritan Center and another, which Kamara calls the “outside location.” At each place, the groups meet with people and distribute water and sandwiches, which are donated by Salem’s Gyros and Subs, until about 8 p.m.
Kamara believes that the most important part of the program is not the food, but connecting with the people.
“Real change starts from within ourselves, and when we do something consistently and with great passion, that’s what really causes change,” Kamara said.
The students who participated found the process fulfilling. Freshman Paula Reed, a biology major, heard about Project Downtown through Mobull texting services.
“It’s definitely rewarding. I was always raised by my parents to help others who are in need if you are able to. No matter how your life is you’ll always get a different perspective on things,” Reed said.
Reed’s favorite part of the night was meeting people. She said that the homeless are often stereotyped as people who have not tried hard enough, but Project Downtown has proved to her many times this is not the case.
“In our economic times, a lot of people are losing their jobs, so it’s not that they’re not trying. Some of them have different stories behind them,” she said.
Another student, junior Christina Plant, is double majoring in communications and women and gender studies so she can become a social worker. She was homeless before she started community college and this inspired her to begin studying the causes of poverty and how to eradicate it.
“I decided to be a social worker after interning at a homeless shelter and so now I’m really interested in working with the homeless in the future,” Plant said.
Plant was chosen for a Bulls Service Break Program, where she will travel with a group to Washington D.C. to feed the homeless there in the spring. She hoped participating in Project Downtown would prepare her for the trip.
Kamara explained that the program allows Muslims to live out their faith, which encourages them to help those in need.
Participants do not have to be affiliated with Islam or any religion and many of the volunteers this past Friday were not. About 80 percent of the volunteers were college students, but there is also no age requirement either.
Anyone who is interested in participating can contact Kamara through the Center for Student Involvement office on the third floor of the Marshall Student Center. If any volunteers are willing to contribute to the squad of cars, their assistance is appreciated.