It began with a few turkey sandwiches. Sohaib Khan grew tired of watching drivers whiz past a clutch of beggars on a corner near his home. So last year, he and some friends delivered 40 sandwiches to homeless residents who hang out at Stranahan Park in downtown. They haven’t stopped since.

That first gesture was so well received that Khan and his friends launched the Fort Lauderdale chapter of Project Downtown, a nonprofit group made up largely of Muslim students who deliver food and supplies each week to the poor. Khan, 26, said he was inspired to start the organization after volunteering with Project Downtown in Miami, established by Muslim students at the University of Miami in March 2006.

From Miami, Project Downtown has spread to 50 cities in the United States and Canada as members of the Muslim Students Association took up the cause, raising money to buy food and clothes for the homeless. Volunteers adhere to one of the basic tenets of the Quran: help the poor. It is not about proselytizing, said Khan, a junior at Florida Atlantic University.

“Our first focus is to please God, the second is to help people get off the street,” said Khan, gesturing at about 50 people who were lined up Saturday for a free lunch of tuna sandwiches and Tang.

Homeless and unemployed, Glenn Hearn said he looks forward to the Project Downtown gatherings from 1 to 2 p.m., as much for the free food, socks and soap as for the chats with the 30 or so volunteers.

“It gives me hope because I know somebody cares,” said Hearn, 35. “A lot of people forget about the homeless and it is getting worse.”

Project Downtown receives donations of food and supplies from mosques, the Muslim Students Association and volunteers. (MORE)


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