Growing up in her hometown of Dallas, Texas, Yasmin Davis never felt like she had a community she belonged to. After starting college at University of Southern California, Davis was looking for a way to get involved when she found Ansar Service Partnership, a Muslim student organization.
"I didn't grow up around a lot of Muslims so when I came to USC and joined their organization, I felt like wow, there are other people who are like me, " Davis said.
While the Ansar Service Partnership is aimed at bringing together students from different backgrounds for interfaith community service throughout the city of Los Angeles, the organization doesn't only benefit the students who are involved. It has a much bigger vision.
"As far as I know, Ansar Service Partnership is the only Muslim student organization in the United States that focuses on interfaith community services," University of Southern California's Office of Religious Life Dean Varun Soni said.
"That means that they are focused on serving our communities by doing it in a way that brings together other students of other faith traditions. It's certainly the first organization of its kind."
As the current political narrative around Muslims is weighted in dark skepticism about the message of Islam, Ansar's work remains a true testament to the message of the Quran.
"It's written into the Quran that you have to do Zakat which is you have to give, contribute to your community and take care of the poor," said Reverend Jim Burklo, assistant dean at the Office of Religious Studies at USC.
"You have to do Ansar which means service. It's a religious obligation. A religious expectation. Islam is very much a behavior focused faith, in terms of doing the right thing. Part of doing the right thing is serving others … making sure those who are in need are taking care of," Burklo said.
One weekend per month Ansar Service Partnership organizes a food distribution on Skid Row where students prepare cooked food and hygiene kits for the homeless. The students raise money for supplies through a GoFundMe account.
"We go to Costco or Smart and Final and we buy a bunch of supplies," Davis said.
"If we have enough money we'll buy stuff to make hygiene kits like toothpaste, soap and pads for women, stuff like that," Davis said. "We put all of the things together that night…we'll cook the food. The next morning we'll pack all the food in our cars and drive down to Skid Row."
Food distribution is only a small part of the work they do for the community, said sophomore Talha Muhammad, who is vice president of Ansar.
"There's a lot of different events that we do. We've had blood drives, beach cleanups and tree planting events," Muhammad said.
The community at USC has recognized Ansar's work by previously providing them with the Tommy Trojan award, an honor that over 800 student organizations compete for. But Ansar has also participated in former president Obama's initiative for interfaith work on college campuses also known as the White House Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.
"It's important nationally. They provide a model for Muslim student leadership that I think is inspiring for many around the country," Dean Soni said.
Despite the messages that are coming out of Washington D.C. about Muslims, students like Yasmin Davis concentrate on their faith.
"I know I've been put on this earth to do my part. I'm not going to try to let all of the outside forces get me down," Davis said.
She finds consolation in the work she does with her peers at Ansar and the people she helps at events like the food distribution.
"That's the part that I really like. Just to make a difference in people's days. Sometimes we make too much food and people can go back in line a second or third time. You don't know if that's all that they had. If they didn't have any food at all, at least now they have food for a day or two," Davis said.
Reach staff reporter Marie Targonski-O'Brien here.