When the pandemic caused businesses across the globe to shut their doors, it thrusted millions into food insecurity but many people of all walks of life did not hesitate to help in any way they could. Canada Restaurant owner Imran Javaid sprang into action within weeks, offering meals to anyone who was hungry. He began with about 35 free meals a day and now hands out 100 meals daily. Over the last year he has provided over 32,000 meals with the only request that people wanting a free meal let the restaurant know in advance.
Javaid partnered with local businessman Varinder Bhullar, whom he met through mutual friends and his Edmonton restaurant, Dil-E-Punjab, had catered some of his business events. Bhullar is president of Green Scholars of Alberta, an Edmonton non-profit organization that runs summer camps for kids to learn more about their Punjabi and Gujarati cultural roots. He reached out to Javaid when he saw people struggling with the COVID-19 lockdown early in April 2020, especially people who didn’t have enough money for food while they waited for financial help from the government.
“It’s heartbreaking when someone says, ‘I just could not afford to eat. We all have to hang in there together and make sure we stick together and help each other” Bhullar said. Javaid’s restaurant was initially closed during the lockdown for renovations but after hearing Bhullar’s idea, he finished the work and served the first free meals on April 10.
Now, the cost of the meals are partially covered by community donations and provincial government assistance. The giving goes beyond the restaurant as many who were helped have found jobs and make donations to help. Bhullar said other organizations, restaurants and community members have reached out to help.
Christina Usborne met Bhullar while volunteering at the Old Strathcona Peace Camp last summer. After it was closed, she wanted to continue to help, so the two partnered together. Through donations from residents and other restaurants, she now delivers over 100 meals a week to people who are experiencing homelessness.
The hope is one day there will no longer be a need, but as long as people are hungry, Bhullar wants to help. “It tells me there is a lot of poverty out there, a lot of hunger. A lot of people working that are on benefits but not enough to survive,” he said.