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In his 2009 speech in Cairo, President Barack Obama promised to ensure that American Muslims would be able to give their Zakat, a religious obligation to give to those in need, despite a recent crackdown on Islamic charities.

Estimates suggest that Muslim Americans give over $10 billion a year in charitable donations, but after 9/11 many are afraid to donate. Numerous Islamic charities have been shut down, their assets frozen indefinitely by the Treasury Department with no due process. Muslims face scrutiny from law enforcement, or even prosecution, for their charitable giving, if they happen to give to a charity later accused of ties with terrorism. These hurdles discourage many from giving.

Many Islamic charities have responded by launching new domestic programs. Islamic Relief, an international relief organization, launched Humanitarian Day in 2001, which is now known as Day of Dignity.

It's an annual event where volunteers serve hot meals, distributes aid packages and offers health screenings to the down trodden. This year they plan to host the event in 22 American cities serving more the 20,000 people.

For many annual is just not often enough. The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) recently launches their first mobile soup kitchen which has been dubbed, Mercy on Wheels. They plan to serve 1,000 meals once a month, with the goal of expanding to once a week.

These organizations are all funded by charitable donations but a group of San Francisco activists are proving that direct action is always an option.

Project FEED is a monthly effort by concerned men and women from around the Bay Area to provide free brown bag lunches on the streets of the Tenderloin, known for its squalor and homelessness.

This Ramadan, Project FEED will be observing its two year anniversary, and to celebrate volunteers have pledged to serve 2,000 meals on Sunday Aug. 22.

Event organizer Fizaa Ahmed said, "the idea of Project FEED is far from novel. Our goal is consistency."

This event is different from their typical activities because this time, instead of lunches, the group plans to have iftar, the fast breaking meal, with the people of the Tenderloin. Fizza added, "We hope to establish more of a connection with the people."

When Project FEED began, a small group of dedicated community members and students met in a small apartment making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Today, after two years of hard work, about two dozen volunteers meet monthly at the Arab Cultural and Community Center (ACCC) in San Francisco. Mokhtar Alkhanshali, Youth and Social Services Coordinator of the Center, made the arrangements after he heard that the group had outgrown its original space.

Now the group organizes primarily on Facebook. They begin at Costco, where a balance is struck between nutrition and cost effectiveness. Fresh fruit comes from Cali Fresh Produce in Oakland, owned by Ibrahim Aeli, who sells it at a discount to support the effort.

Typically a brown bag lunch consists of a sandwich, a piece of fresh fruit, a drink, and some snack. Costing between $.75 and $1.00 per lunch, the group makes an average of 500 lunches in a typical month. At the ACCC teams of volunteers make sandwiches, fill bags and load vehicles. Then teams of volunteers split up, carrying bags, boxes and even pushing dolly carts distributing the lunches around the Tenderloin.

Similar grass roots projects have erupted around the country. In Los Angeles Operation Brown Bag serves an average of 1,400 lunches quarterly. In Miami Project Downtown started with just a few students passing out 30 sandwiches and now has chapters in multiple cities around the country including Chicago IL, Atlanta GA and Madison WI. The Sacramento Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations  (CAIR-SV) hosts their own monthly Project FEED inspired by the San Francisco group.

The success of Project FEED has been a result of the dedication of its volunteers and the generosity of its donors. The 2,000 meal event is being made possible by the event's primary sponsor, Soulful Moon, an online retailer of hand made Indian wedding invitations. Moving forward, Project FEED aims to raise their average to 750 lunches per month for next year, solving hunger one lunch at a time.





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