Aziz Junejo was scared no one would come. This is the 14th year he’s helped organize an event for homeless people with volunteers from local mosques and Muslim groups. But the location for Saturday’s “Day of Dignity” was new: Plymouth Church in downtown Seattle.
He didn’t have to worry. “We’ve never had so many people before,” Junejo said, near the end of the four-hour event, previously held at the Millionair Club. “We’ve had well over 300 people.”
Around him, a half-dozen barbers were giving haircuts, an acupuncturist was working to relieve aches and pains, and volunteers were handing out winter coats, backpacks and an array of other items that filled large tote bags to the brim. Nearby, a medical station offered free HIV and other tests. Earlier, many had eaten a lunch of chicken and rice.
Junejo approached Plymouth in hopes of starting an interfaith partnership for the event. The church was eager, said its executive minister, the Rev. Steven Davis. Plymouth already provides space for Muslims to pray during the week, including for a Friday afternoon service. He offered Junejo free use of the same space where that service is held, and said members of his congregation may get more involved in future years.
In the Muslim community, said volunteer Maria Romero, “this is such a well-loved event” that she tried unsuccessfully to sign up for several years. All the volunteer spots were full. This year, she and 24-year-old daughter Iman Khalaf finally made it in. “It’s something that’s really important to us as a family,” Maria Romero said, explaining that volunteering empowered her to do something about a problem she has seen steadily worsen.
Marjie Lill, who now lives in subsidized housing but used to be homeless, said she came for the winter coat — a puffy one with a faux-fur-trimmed hood — and was delighted to find other things offered. “I can’t believe it,” she said, showing off her new backpack, so big and practical it even had a pocket where she planned to put food for her cat.
She also got acupuncture to relieve a shoulder problem. “My body feels a little better,” she said. “I’ll sleep tonight.”