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How one man's difficult past inspired his effort to feed those in need

Man's past inspires effort to feed the needy
Sandwich Saturdays: Man's difficult past inspires effort to feed those in need 04:19

Our continuing series, A More Perfect Union, aims to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. In this installment, we meet  a man who knows firsthand the pain of homelessness and hunger. He also knows how much just a little help means. 

Every weekend in Syracuse, New York, it's Sandwich Saturday. Starting at 10:00 am, granola bars, chips, and sandwiches are assembled in lunch kits, ready to go to those who need them most, reports CBS News' Vladimir Duthiers. 

Dozens of volunteers mobilize every Saturday to help Syracuse's cold and hungry, under the leadership of Alamin Muhammad. The volunteers head out and set up under a bridge, and during this particularly cold winter it's not just food they're giving away. Jackets and hygiene kits are also handed out.

But it's more than the food and clothing that the needy of Syracuse get every Saturday. They also get human connection – bonds that are difficult to form on the street. 

Alamin Muhammad and volunteers in Syracuse, New York. CBS News

"At the end of the week, when I don't have too much money — to come down here and get a meal, some hot cocoa, and all of the people come together and we talk and we network. So everybody can help each other out," one man said.

Sandwich Saturdays is part of the nonprofit We Rise Above the Streets. The name describes Muhammad's life.

"When I was in the streets, homeless, really hopeless, there was a lot of people walking past me like I was invisible," he said.

His path to homelessness began early, when he joined a gang as a teenager in his hometown of Chicago.
"I started selling drugs, started getting into violence. I got shot several times, like twice on different occasions," Muhammad said.

After multiple arrests, Muhammad ended up in prison. There he says he found God and converted to Islam. Muhammad knew when he got out he couldn't go back to his former life. Just like the homeless he now helps, he found someone to turn to, a case worker in a detox center.

Alamin Muhammad (right) and the case worker he says changed his life.  CBS News

"He told me 'Alamin, I believe in you. And I believe that you are going to get out of this condition. You're going to help a lot of people in this world.'"

That belief was enough. Muhammad got back on his feet and became a drug counselor. He got married and lives in Syracuse with his wife Nasirah. Together they are working to help the people in Syracuse. Every Saturday you'll find them under the bridge giving clothing, hope and a sandwich.

"And I'm going to continue to do this work, and I'm going to continue to fight, and I'm going to continue to say 'come' to people out here, because somebody trusted me, and somebody believed in me and they saved me."

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