basic needs for Denver’s homeless

David H. got to Sonny Lawson Park right at 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning because he knew it was a big day.

Homeless since his wife died of cancer in 2001, David has roamed around since then, staying at various shelters all over California and Colorado.

But on Saturday, David, who wouldn’t give his last name, knew exactly where he wanted to be.

For a full day, the downtown park was transformed into a Day of Dignity, an event for more than 500 homeless and the working poor to access free food, music, medical screenings, clothing and other essential items.

The annual campaign is organized in cities around the country by Islamic Relief USA, a Virginia-based nonprofit humanitarian organization. Started in 2002, the Day of Dignity is now hosted annually in 16 cities, helping more than 20,000 people from Buffalo to Denver.

“Poverty has existed for a long time, and it still exists despite what you hear about the economy booming,” said Syed M. Hassan, spokesperson for Islamic Relief USA. “We established this as a way to serve as a one-stop shop for people’s basic needs.”

Denver’s Day of Dignity was put on by Muslim Family Services of Colorado, a nonprofit organization that provides direct services for those with emergency needs.

Fifteen community partners pitched in, including the ACLU, Volunteers of America and Denver Homeless Out Loud. The park was filled with tables and tents offering free cholesterol and blood pressure screenings, dental exams, hygiene kits and all types of clothing. People waited for haircuts, enjoyed hot showers and gorged on unlimited food.

“We call it the Day of Dignity because this is a very important element of society,” said Dr. Carroll Watkins Ali, executive director of Muslim Family Services. “Just to be able to give them a little something that says, ‘other folks care about you.’ You can walk out of here and feel good.”

Folks such as David H., 75, took full advantage. Carrying a new black backpack and winter coat, David loaded up his plate with rice, burritos and chocolate chip cookies. This was his third free meal of the day, and he even had a bag to save extra food for later.

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