Project Downtown STL: Aiding the Homeless One Meal at a Time


Pictured above: Project Downtown donating $15K to the Jennings School District in North St. Louis County for student laptops. Photo Courtesy of Photographer Willy Price.

This past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a large disparity between the privileged and less privileged members of society. With homelessness rising in numbers, individuals may feel inclined to aid in combating this issue. Project Downtown Saint Louis, located in the Jennings, Missouri area, is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving the impoverished communities in Saint Louis. This organization provides fresh, hot meals and basic necessities such as hygiene products and diapers to the Jennings area. 

Director Shahzaib Khan explains that they typically have weekly services on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. However, due to the rise in COVID-19 cases, they are now temporarily closed. The meals that they typically prepare go beyond canned foods and provide individuals with hot meals such as lasagna or burritos.

“We try to give out food that everyone enjoys,” says Khan. “For a lot of these people, this might’ve been the only hot, fresh meal they would’ve gotten that week.”

Project Downtown Saint Louis also participated in a winter coat drive this year in which they distributed 200 purpose-made winter coats downtown and in the East Saint Louis area. Additionally, this organization had a backpack drive where they provided book bags as well as school supplies to the Jennings school district. When Project Downtown was active, the members would also give these out to individuals who came to the weekly services.

Project Downtown has also partnered up with other organizations such as Panera Bread and Fresh Thyme. These locations provide leftover food that Project Downtown members can turn into meals or desserts for the community. This organization has also partnered with the House of Goods, which donated gifts to them during the holidays. Khan explains that it was memorable seeing the reactions of the children when they received their gifts. He recalls an instance where a young kid received a bicycle that he was able to ride. 

“I thought it was pretty heartwarming because I think some of us that are lucky enough usually have our parents buy something along those lines,” says Khan. “I was pretty shocked and moved to see that this was his first bicycle and Project Downtown got to be the organization that could bring that joy to him.”

According to the Project Downtown Saint Louis Mission, “every person, regardless of their race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, criminal record, or life history deserves to have enough quality food, shelter, and support.” This organization stays true to its mission by providing resources back to the diverse Saint Louis community. Individuals from young children to senior citizens come in on a weekly basis. While Project Downtown is not directly aligned with a particular faith, a lot of Muslim individuals choose to volunteer their time at this organization. As a result, many of the constituents are able to learn more about the religion. 

“We have had so many cases where they ask why are you wearing a hijab or have cleared their misconceptions about Islam,” says Khan. He further explains the importance of the weekly services because they provide information and insight to those with less exposure to people of different religions and races.

Not only is the experience enlightening for those who come to the weekly services, it is also beneficial for those volunteering in the organization. Khan explains that it is eye-opening to see a different side of the Saint Louis community outside of a specific demographic. It may be simple to not try and gain exposure out of one’s bubble, however, obtaining an insight towards this community helps foster an understanding of the group. This is why Khan encourages individuals to come out and volunteer when it is safe again. To get more involved in the organization, for the moment, donations through their website are the best way to contribute.