Muslims in Detroit are helping the homeless – social outreach program

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SHAFAQNA – “This is godsend,” said Francois, a homeless Detroit native who was waiting in line for a warm plate of food on a Sunday afternoon. “Without these people coming out here, we would probably starve. I really appreciate what these guys are doing for us.”

For several months, Francois and dozens of other homeless people being sheltered at the Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO) at 3430 Third Street have been breaking bread together on Sundays.

For now, the food being provided every Sunday might be the only guarantee they have. They are all aware that in the coming months, the NSO’s homeless shelter on Third Street will be razed, as the area will be reconstructed for parking for the new home of the Detroit Red Wings.

Project Dignity Outreach (PDO), a non-profit organization started by Dearborn resident Nahid Ayoub, has led the initiative to feed the homeless in this mid-town neighborhood.

On this particular afternoon, steak, pizza, beans, chicken fingers, corn and pasta were among the food items being served by volunteers and members of PDO. The food is mainly donated by local businesses in the Dearborn and Dearborn Heights area. The Lava Lounge in Dearborn Heights, Super Greenland Market and Habib’s Cuisine in Dearborn are among the organization’s biggest contributors.

During some weeks there may be limited resources, but Ayoub and a handful of others can still be found on Third Street, regardless.

A few weeks ago, Ayoub’s family wanted to celebrate her birthday. Instead, she had them come down to Third Street with a cake to share with everyone.

“I’ve never missed a Sunday,” Ayoub said. “Rain, shine, snow or sleet, I’m out here.”

Ayoub has developed a personal connection with the poverty-stricken in this area. She knows most of their names, engages in conversations with them and offers them hugs, along with their plates of food.

“I know it’s hard to believe, but I’ve never been asked for a dollar,” she said. “I’ve been asked for hygiene stuff and I’ve been asked for hugs. It’s amazing.”

Many of the volunteers involved with PDO’s Sunday charity efforts are Arab Americans. The group is constantly asking for help from the community on social media.

Dearborn resident Solan Darwish began volunteering with the organization a couple months ago, after learning about PDO.
Darwish said the charity efforts have been very fulfilling and given her a different outlook on life. She noted that she feels guilty if she were to miss a Sunday. She’s even  contemplating canceling an upcoming weekend trip so that she can be here to help serve meals.
“This has been in my heart for a very long time,” she said. “Right now with all the turmoil happening abroad many in our community devote most of their effort to collecting cloths and monetary donations for refugees and send them abroad, and I think that’s a really great effort. But here at home there are so many that need our help as well and I feel it’s evenly important to pitch in and help the needy here in the City of Detroit.”

Darwish, along with other volunteers, set up a table with the warm trays of food on the curbside of Third Street, as a line grew down the block.

Dearborn resident Stephanie Wilks, a student at Henry Ford Community College, was also among the volunteers. This marks the first time she’s worked with PDO.

“We like helping people,” Wilks said. “People need to eat. This is a basic need that everyone should have taken care of.”

Dearborn resident Brian Stone, a Democratic candidate for state representative, has also been volunteering his time every Sunday to help the needy with the PDO.

“This keeps me centered and focused,” Stone said. “It reminds me of how good we’ve all got it. I think when you are running for office, it’s easy to lose track of what really matters. The people here have nothing, so they remind me of what really matters.”

While waiting in line, Gregory Belanger, 61, a homeless Detroit resident, said he is among those who appreciate every bit of help they can get.

“The services are great,” Belanger said. “This is the only decent meal we get all week. They serve everybody and don’t turn anybody away. A lot of times they have more people than they have food to serve.”

Ayoub said her biggest fear each week is not having enough food to serve the dozens of people who are expecting the organization’s presence.

She pointed out a middle-aged woman suffering from diabetes, who was upset with her because the week before she had to turn her away from receiving a second helping. Ayoub only wanted to make sure everyone else had a chance to eat before some of the others returned for more.

Kimberly Ismail, a PCO board member, told The Arab American News that within the last six months, the organization’s efforts have expanded, thanks to growing support from local businesses.

“That’s always our concern,” Ismail said. “Do we have enough food? Today, it looks like we are going to be okay. It makes me want to cry, sometimes. But we do have such a good outlet for help in the community. It’s now getting to the point where we don’t even have to go to them. They’ll call us and say come pick it up.”

PDO has also been giving the needy in the area clothes and hygiene kits.

On this Sunday, Delta Airlines donated the hygiene kits to distribute to the neighborhood. The kits include a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner.

Ayoub said the organization has come a long way in the three years since its start up.

Despite the growing support, she said there’s still somewhat of a hesitation in the community to give a helping hand. She noted that the majority of the Arab American community is focused on Middle East efforts, often overlooking what’s happening here.

“I believe we should clean our own backyard before we clean anywhere else,” she said. “I really tried to get my community involved, but I got backlash. I’ve never asked anybody for a dime. I ask for leftovers. If we could send leftovers overseas, I would do it in a heartbeat. But these are also our people. They are human. Poverty does not know religion, race or ethnicity.”

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