By Suzan El-Ajou
Survival of the fittest is a pretty accurate summation of the winters in San Francisco. Those that are fortunate make it through the winters in their heated homes, bundled up while sipping on hot chocolate. The homeless, however, are not so lucky. In the winter of 2005, a local news station covered a story on the cold winter season and how it affected the homeless who lived on the streets of San Francisco. It stated that the homeless shelters did not have enough room for them all. This sparked an idea amongst a group of Bay Area Muslims to prevent their neighbors from staying cold. What started as simply passing out any extra blankets they had or collected became a phenomenal project that no one could have predicted would take form: the Blanket Brigade. The mission: to help alleviate another human’s suffering, to help each other with understanding and love, and to unite people by means of giving.
The Blanket Brigade needed the buy-in of family and friends, and it got just that. Over the years, with the help of social networking sites, the group of supporters has grown tremendously. The Blanket Brigade has a MySpace page and a Facebook fan page that have enabled it to reach many different people.
Those that have committed to supporting this effort have contacted their family, friends, and co-workers to seek donations. The group’s motto? “Making this world a warmer place, one blanket at a time.” Whether it’s one dollar or one blanket, people are encouraged to donate whatever they can. The overwhelming support they have received within their community has inspired many to organize similar projects in their own communities.
This effort was organized by a group of inspired Muslims who wanted to give to the less fortunate. The most beautiful part of it all is that the support given to the cause transcends any religious boundary or divide. It has truly united all of those who have participated under one common goal. Islam teaches one to be good to his neighbor whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim. This is an obligation we have as Muslims. The principle underlying it is that we owe society something. Our neighbors help to bring us out of the trenches when we need them and for this we are indebted to them. This is our opportunity to pay them back.
The amount of gratitude shown by those receiving these blankets is indescribable. Participating in the Blanket Brigade is truly a humbling experience. The material possessions we hold on tightly to become a lot less valuable when you are shown how much joy you are greeted with supplying another human being with the bare essentials to sustain himself or herself.
As with most social problems, we need to tackle homelessness with a vengeance. We are all equipped with the resources to help in doing this and we need to capitalize on this. It is our duty, not just as Muslims, but as members of the human race to not be bystanders to human suffrage. The common argument of “I’m just one person. How can I really make a difference?” is an invalid argument. The Blanket Brigade has proven how one person can make a difference. One person, one blanket, helps one neighbor in need.