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November 1, 2022

Charity Issue: One meal at a time

Every+Saturday%2C+Project+Downtown+St.+Louis+hands+out+food+boxes+within+the+Ferguson+community.
David Gaither
Every Saturday, Project Downtown St. Louis hands out food boxes within the Ferguson community.

Pans clinking together, the satisfying crunch of knives cutting through lettuce and the whistling of the stove can be heard every week at Project Downtown St. Louis (PDSTL). Freshly cut fruit and cucumber salad is scooped into styrofoam boxes, while pastries are neatly folded into paper bags. All of this food will later be distributed and handed out within the Ferguson community.

Project Downtown is an organization based in Ferguson, Missouri, devoted to “changing lives, one meal at a time.” Every Saturday from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., volunteers can be found making food and handing out trays in the community.

“Project Downtown is one of the easiest ways to do something kind,” Mohamed Abdulsattar, Board member, said. “It’s once a week, you come in on a Saturday when people usually aren’t busy, and give back to the community which is something we need to do more often. I’ve been seeing a lot more organizations [which] do something similar to Project Downtown, and I hope it continues to grow since [many] people don’t have access to food.”

Project Downtown is one of the easiest ways to do something kind.

— Mohamed Abdulsattar

Abdulsattar said his favorite part is helping make the meals. However, Project Downtown’s services extend beyond food, as they host a back to school and winter coat drive each year according to their website. A few years ago, they donated thousands of dollars to the Jennings school district so they could afford laptops.

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“I like the back to school drive because school supplies are a necessity that younger children need,” Abdulsattar said. “If you can’t get a good education, you are making it harder for [the younger generation] to get out of the position they’re in because education helps you [succeed].”

It is trying to create an institution that can make a difference in a person’s life.

— Ahmid Rehmani

The mission at Project Downtown is to provide essential services to unhoused individuals and impoverished communities in the St. Louis area, according to their website. The organization gives people access to books, clothing and resources, along with meals.

“Project Downtown is more than giving out winter coats [and] food,” Ahmid Rehmani, Executive Board member, said. “It is trying to create an institution that can make a difference in a person’s life.”

According to Umer Mallick, Board member, being part of Project Downtown has helped him understand new perspectives. He said he enjoys being able to have a human connection with someone new.

“It is very easy for us to feel like we have an understanding of the world around us, but the more we learn about other people, the more we learn we don’t,” Mallick said. “Project Downtown allows you to have a more personal connection than other organizations. [You are] able to give food to a stranger, talk to [them], and learn more about their experiences. By learning about their perspectives, it allows me to better understand my own.”

[You are] able to give food to a stranger, talk to [them], and learn more about their experiences. By learning about their perspectives, it allows me to better understand my own.

— Umer Mallick

Rehmani, along with Abdulsattar and Mallick, have been volunteering in the organization since high school, and have been part of it for eight years. Rehmani said he is glad to see so many volunteers coming to help each week.

“The goal of Project Downtown is to serve as many people as we can,” Rehmani said. “Having many people [help allows us] to do meaningful work. Each person is important towards making a difference.”

According to Abdulsattar, the meals provided by the organization relieve the extra stress of people needing to make and buy food and spend money on groceries. Each food tray consists of fruit, salad and a main course. Since this is the only meal in the day for many people, they make sure it is nutritious.

“Project Downtown is very important to the Ferguson community,” Rehmani said. “We have people come every week and they thank us for the work we are able to do. So many people who come are unhoused and don’t even have a warm place to live. They don’t have access to food, and knowing that every single Saturday, rain or shine, there will be a place where they can get a meal is not only something they can look forward to, but something that a lot of people rely on.”

This story was originally published on The Kirkwood Call on December 6, 2023.