Volunteers Noor Khader, 12 (left), Rayaan Memon, 10, and his aunt, Safia Jaliawala, hand out bags of chips to the homeless during an event in which the Surayya Anne Foundation, a Muslim nonprofit, teamed up with Night Light Tulsa during Ramadan to serve the needy under a downtown bridge on Thursday. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Under an expressway bridge on the edge of downtown, hundreds of homeless gather to enjoy food and fellowship.
Known as “the cookout,” volunteers set up near Maybelle Avenue and Brady Street every Thursday for Night Light Tulsa.
“I really enjoy it,” said Lawana McCalister, who eats there with her son and husband nearly every week. “There are a lot of nice people who come out and help us.”
Since it started in September, Night Light Tulsa has been at the same location each week serving food and providing other essentials to those in need.
“The feedback I get from our guests is that we make them feel like they matter, like we care who they are and where they came from,” said Anisa Jackson, co-founder of Night Light Tulsa.
Jackson said the idea came from a similar program in Portland, Oregon.
“We’ve been on mission trips with our families but thought there is so much need here in our backyard,” Jackson said.
The group is affiliated with Park Plaza Church of Christ, yet operates independently from the church and relies on volunteers from groups, businesses and organizations throughout the area.
Nearly 80 volunteers from the Islamic Society of Tulsa and Surayya Anne Foundation, a Muslim faith-based nonprofit that focuses on battered women and others in need, volunteered Thursday night.
“We thought it would be a fun thing to do during Ramadan because it’s in the spirit of our faith to feed others,” said Allison Moore, executive director of the Surayya Anne Foundation. “It’s great to get young people out to see the many different faces of Tulsa.”
The majority of the volunteers were 23 and younger and were mobilized by Safa El Soueissi, an intern on the board of the Islamic Society of Tulsa.
“This is why we fast, to feel of the homeless and poor and those less fortunate,” El Soueissi said. “Bringing these youths down here makes a big impact on understanding why we do what we do.”
Volunteers passed out food, provided by the Bill and Ruth’s at 31st Street and Memorial Drive, toiletries and clothing, and also offered prayers, nail-painting and foot-washing.
“I like to say that things that don’t make sense make the most impact,” Jackson said. “Who would say ‘I think I’m going to go under a bridge downtown and wash strangers’ feet?’ I feel like everyone who gets on their hands and knees and washes feet walks out from under the bridge a different person.”
After feeding the homeless, the Surayya Anne volunteers took time to break their fast before packing up and going home.
“This is the true essence of fasting for us. We are encouraged to take care of the impoverished and less fortunate,” said Heera Sheikh, president of the Islamic Society board. “It’s wonderful to bring our communities together, and I hope we can make this an annual thing.”