by Megan Boehnke – Sept. 7, 2008

The Arizona Republic

Cecelia Bernal set a pair of teal-rimmed sunglasses on her nose and looked up at the florescent light.

“Now those look good,” Muhammad Mutab told her. It was at least the third pair she picked up.

“Yeah, thats just what I need,” said 52-year-old Bernal, grinning.

Mutab, 21, was one of about 75 Muslims who came to the Human Services Campus on Jackson Street to lend a hand for the Day of Dignity event.

Bernal was one of about 1,000 people they helped.

The event included free meals, medical tests, popcorn and snow cones, shampoo and conditioner for anyone in need. Across the street, a gorilla mascot entertained children at the overflow shelter. Outside, volunteers painted murals and trimmed trees.

Originally a Los Angeles effort that went nation-wide five years ago, Day of Dignity is in its second year in Phoenix. Islamic Relief, an international poverty organization, sponsored the event and sought hosts in 20 cities across the country to put on the Ramadan service event.

Muslims observing Ramadan fast from sunrise to sunset while emphasizing charity and prayer. As part of the weekends outreach, volunteers served meals donated by Gilbert restaurant Café Sahara to hundreds of homeless people.

“I think all the Muslims you see here are fasting now, and one of the reasons people are serving now is we can empathize,” said Karen Hadley, a volunteer from Mesa. “We know what it feels like for them to sometimes have no food or water.”

One of the biggest efforts was compiling donations for goody bags, allowing the men and women to fill canvas totes with shampoo and soap, hats, white undershirts, fans and, yes, sunglasses.

“Being in the homeless community, they get used stuff all the time. It makes you feel good to have something new, to have that dignity and respect.” said Zarinah Awad, who operates Cultural Cup Food Bank, an Islamic-run organization that caters to the hungry with diabetic or cultural diet restrictions.

Awad stood next to Mutabs sunglass station. She watched each man and woman who came past her in line, picking up the free items at each station. She smiled as it slowly dwindled from the maze that once wrapped around the building.

Mutab had just talked a woman into a pair of black glasses with 50s-style pointed rims.

“You can start a new trend,” he said to Sheila Stratman.

Stratman smiled back at him and tucked them into her bag.

“This means a lot considering we dont have a lot to begin with,” Stratman said of the days event. “Theyre angels. I cant even put a name to what they are.”

Click here to learn more about the Day of Dignity 2008.

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