Every Friday afternoon in the parking lot of the Stephen P. Clark county government building, a group of about 100 homeless people gathers. They’re waiting for the members of Project Downtown.

When the group members arrive, carrying food and clothes, the crowd descends upon them.

In the middle of it all is Wajiha Ahktar, 20, a Pakistani-American engineering student at the University of Miami.

Ahktar is one of the founding members of Project Downtown, a Muslim community service group based at UM.

After Jumu’ah, or Friday prayers, they’ve made it a tradition to go down to the parking lot of the government building at 111 NW First St. to distribute food and clothing.

“I love them,” said Mike Holloway, 39, one of the 5,015 homeless people in Miami-Dade County, according to census estimates from July 2006.

Holloway recently migrated to Miami from North Carolina for the warmer weather. Wearing a shirt he got from the students several months ago, he said they have become like a family to him.

“To understand those less fortunate than you says a lot,” he said.

Formed in March by six students, the group’s membership has swelled to 50 in the past few months.

The students credit the growth to a strong Muslim Student Association on campus and positive feedback and continual contributions from their community.

The sandwiches they usually hand out come from a Subway restaurant owned by a member of Ahktar’s mosque. The clothes are unclaimed items from a dry cleaning shop owned by a friend of Ahktar’s parents. And the toiletries come from members of the local chapter of CAIR, the Council of American-Islamic Relations.


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