United Muslim Relief gives back while connecting with Austin community

Khadija Saifullah

The concept of giving back to the community has been reiterated so much that it has become redundant to the point of triteness. We are rarely reminded that “only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile,” to use Albert Einstein’s words, as we cross through the West Mall with rushed footsteps and lowered eyes. A chunk of UT’s 1,276 organizations, from Lions Club to GlobeMed, are dedicated to relief and service to the less fortunate either locally or abroad. Members of the United Muslim Relief Texas Chapter, for example, hand out food to the homeless in downtown Austin at least once a month. 

On March 29, the team hosted a game day and distributed baked goods at Front Steps Shelter, a homeless shelter in downtown Austin, making this a more interactive event than monthly food distributions. 

As one of the volunteers, this was the first service event of my freshman year. The initial nervousness and the dreadful feeling of stepping out of my comfort zone gradually disappeared as I served muffins, chatted with my teammates, played games and learned card tricks from one of the men at the shelter. It was rewarding to see that we offered help to people who just need someone to talk to, someone who could listen to their stories. They all had their own unique paths and aspirations, hopes of becoming stable and independent, and I felt like our brief presence made them feel like they weren’t completely alone. 

The organization has committed to end this spring semester strong on April 12 with its last Project Downtown, where members make and distribute sandwiches to the homeless. 

“The volunteer coordinator at Front Steps Volunteering stated that what shelter inhabitants need more than food is hygiene kits and company,” Project Downtown Coordinator Sidrah Shah said. Because of this suggestion, UMR has incorporated the distribution of hygiene kits along with sandwiches at their upcoming Project Downtown.  

To me, leaving an impact is a gradual process. Although I am only at the beginning of my journey at UT, at the end of my undergraduate career, what I’ll leave behind is the impact I left by distributing food as well as the number of people I helped who were in need.   

What sets UMR apart is its focus on fundraising and directly helping the local community with clothing drives, canned food drives and monthly Project Downtowns.  

UMR publicity director Saleha Ali emphasizes the importance of being part of a service organization in college. 

“In college we’re so busy acquiring knowledge and taking advantage of resources, and it’s important to stop and think about what impact we want to make on our community,” Ali said. “It’s also important for self-development because we’re acquiring so many resources from this school that it only makes sense to distribute resources ourselves.”

Saifullah is a neuroscience sophomore from Richardson.