Each Sunday, a group of volunteers, most college-aged, meet at the Clifton Mosque to make sandwiches, bag lunches and wrap pastries to pass out to individuals in downtown Cincinnati.
The volunteers make up an organization called Project Downtown
, a nonprofit whose local chapter has been in existence since 2008, and whose ultimate goal is to eliminate poverty downtown.
Yousef Hussein, director of PD, says the goal is a lofty one, but he’s confident that it can be accomplished.
“It’s going to be difficult, but at the end of the day, I feel that if we set our mind to it, and people receive us properly, we can get the support and make a big impact in our community," he says.
The Cincinnati chapter of PD began with leadership from students in the University of Cincinnati’s Muslim Students’ Association
who wanted to form an organization that got them more involved in the community and that reflected their mindset of wanting to take care of their neighbors.
Hussein says about 40 percent of PD Cincy’s near 140 members are either immigrants or first-generation Americans, and that it’s important to get them “more involved in the American fabric.”
“As a result of that, the children aren’t as exposed to what goes on in downtown Cincinnati or aren’t exposed to the poverty that’s so close to them,” says Hussein. “A lot of them live in the suburbs, and it’s just a great opportunity for them to see what goes on in downtown Cincinnati. I think that when you have that sort of compassion and care for the general community and the community understands that, you’re able to break down the religious barriers you see between Muslims.”
PD Cincy is not just a Muslim organization, however. It’s an interfaith group that aims to help others, and that’s what Hussein says he likes best. “You’ll see Catholics, Protestants and atheists, and it’s just beautiful to see them come together for one common purpose.”
PD Cincy currently distributes 70 bagged lunches, in addition to breads and pastries donated by Panera Bread’s Operation Dough-Nation
program to individuals along Vine Street. One-third of those lunches, in addition to any leftover bread, are then left in a box outside of the downtown mosque in Over-the-Rhine for anyone hungry to grab.
“There’s a couple families that live nearby, and as we’re coming down, you can see them looking out the window so they can grab a couple for their kids,” Hussein says.
But according to Hussein, it’s more than food that residents of OTR need.
“A lot of individuals have mental health problems; a lot of them are just lonely,” he says. “If you’re in a situation where you’re homeless, chances are you don’t have a support network; and as a result of that, people have things they need to get off their chest. We really like to sit down and figure out what the needs are in their community.”
So Hussein says PD Cincy plans to broaden its giving so that the organization provides more than just food. One way it plans to give back is through a hygiene drive, where volunteers will pass out kits filled with things like toothbrushes and lotion to help prevent people’s hands from cracking in the cold weather. The nonprofit is also planning a sock drive.
“It’s easy to find clothes, but socks are hard to find, and washrags—you wouldn’t think it, but if I had a washrag to offer someone, they’d take it,” says Hussein. “Little things like that make a big difference. We run on a shoestring budget, but if we’re able to do those things with a lot of thought behind it, it makes a huge difference.”
• Learn more about Project Downtown by visiting the organization's website
• Volunteer by making sandwiches, packing lunches and distributing food on Sundays from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. All are welcome, and those interested in helping should meet at 3668 Clifton Ave. Enter through the back basement door.
• Assist the organization by donating
those involved if you're interested in forming a partnership.
By Brittany York
Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati and a teacher at the Regional Institute of Torah and Secular Studies. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia.