Dennis Hanagan –
What started as a school project for social-media Ryerson student Noura al-mutairi has been picked up by people around the world and it’s drawing attention to the plight of homelessness.
“Our professor wanted us to use social media to come up with the biggest thing we could do. I wanted to think of something that wasn’t just going to be cool. I wanted something that was going to make a difference,” says al-mutairi, a Yonge and Gerrard area resident.
With that she came up with the idea last November to hand out free pizzas to Toronto’s homeless. She calls it Pass the Pizza. “The end goal, to get the ball rolling for poverty, would be something anyone could do, anywhere,” says al-mutairi.
She took a picture of herself giving a pizza to a homeless person and posted it on Instagram. She got her friends to do the same and their friends picked up on the idea. It was a snowball effect, says al-mutairi.
“I thought it was just going to be something that my friends would do (but) it grew and people I didn’t even know were sending pictures of themselves passing the pizza from around the world,” says al-mutairi.
For big Pass the Pizza events al-mutairi looks for sponsors to supply pizzas. But for the most part it’s simply a case of a person walking into a pizza shop, laying down $2 for a slice, then giving it to a homeless person and snapping a photo—if it’s okay with the recipient.
Since al-mutairi started the project she’s had some negative feedback over posting the faces of homeless people on social media. “There’s been a lot of hype about if it’s fair to them.”
Many people decline a photo, al-mutairi admits; they still get the pizza. On the other hand she gets a lot of happy responses from lonely people who seem to be glad that someone has stopped to talk to them.
“It’s not just the fact you’re feeding them. It’s that there’s someone there who will stop and give you attention. All of that would just lift their spirits up.” She wants to make a video to show that side.
“There are so many people that get so excited (because) something interesting is happening (to them). I want the world to see that reaction. You can’t just be dead set on this is hurting people,” says al-mutairi.
Some homeless, even in their destitute situation, show their thoughtfulness toward others. “There was this one person we asked him do you want pizza and he said no, there’s someone down the street who needs it more than I do,” says al-mutairi.
“That brought so much humanity to everything. The people that have the least are willing to give the most.”
In another case a man told al-mutairi and her helpers he ends up in jail every week. They asked him to try to stay out for at least another week so he could attend a Pass the Pizza event they were holding.
Apparently he managed to stay out of jail because he showed up at the event. “That was just one instance (that shows) we can make a difference,” says al-mutairi.
But how will posting photos of homeless people eating free pizzas alleviate poverty? “The thing is,” says al-mutairi, “everything has to start somewhere.”
Her website is facebook.com/passthepizza.