An organization at the University of South Florida is advocating students to understand and to help Hillsborough County’s homeless population.
Project Downtown is a homeless advocacy program dedicated to assisting the needs and building relationships with the homeless.
Executive Board Member Sundus Alsharif said, “We have a saying here at Project Downtown which is ‘We not only feed the stomach, but we also feed the soul.’”
During last Thursday’s meeting, its members told personal stories of their experiences with the homeless and how helping has impacted their lives.
The organization encourages developing friendships with the homeless. The interaction between them and the members is what sets Project Downtown aside from other organizations at USF.
USF graduate and former member Nadir Bakali said, “Project Downtown is one of the few organizations on campus that gives you the opportunity to get involved. It’s not just a fundraiser where you hand someone a check. It gives you a chance to make a difference.”
Freshman Hiba Alqasemi agreed.
“I think the fact that they don’t just feed the poor, but they also get to know them is really cool,” she said.
For the last 6 years, Project Downtown feeds approximately 200 homeless people each week. The group receives sandwich donations from the local restaurant Salem’s Gyros and Subs that are used to feed the homeless community. The organization not only gives the homeless food, but also hands out hygiene bags twice a year and recently had a raffle for a bike giveaway.
Gregory Johnson, a homeless man who spoke at the last meeting, explained how his previous drug addiction led him to end up on the streets and although his loving family offered him a place to stay, he has chosen to deal with the consequences of his actions and change his life on his own.
Johnson is starting an event called “The Awakening” to raise awareness for the homeless population. It will collect clothing, food and other necessities for those who cannot afford to purchase the items themselves.
Johnson hopes to have an entire warehouse full of goods by next February.
Project Downtown meets every Friday at 5 p.m. in the Marshall Center and heads to downtown Tampa bringing food to people living under the bridges and all homeless shelters.