Karama Kanteen feeds half a million people.
That's the staggering number of people who have been fed so far by the Karama Kanteen project that prepares, packs and distributes hot meals amongst the city's blue-collar workers and the less fortunate.
Ask Lola Lopez, the founder of the parent organization, Volunteer in the UAE, and she will tell you why she is still ever keen to continue adding on to her success count, years after the launch of the project in October 2008.
"That's like having made a small difference to about a hundred thousand less fortunate amongst us every year since we formed and we haven't technically completed five years yet," says the svelte Madrid-born, chaperoning - on a hot, balmy Monday afternoon - a packing session that will soon see 1200 iftr meals hand-delivered to as many workers of an Al Quoz labour camp by sunset
"It definitely isn't getting any easier but we consciously choose not to cut down on the quality of food for the sake of increasing numbers. We could feed more people with less, let's say with just a packet of vegetable biryanis each but we prefer giving them about 110g of chicken with 400 g of biryani rice, sweets, laban and dates," she shouts out, her voice hoarsening over the loud buzz that fills up the small room where 30-odd employees of Starcom Mediavest are at work, frantically tucking away pieces of chicken breasts into small mounds of curried fragrant yellow rice. The multi-national media specialist company were the kind sponsors of the handouts that day.
"We need more and more such corporates to come forward with just little over a week left in this Ramadan. Today it was them (Starcom MediaVest) tomorrow it will be google doling out about 900 packages. All companies need to do is contact us with their budget and numbers. We take care of the rest, thanks to City Chef, the guys who prepare the food and our loyal partners for close to three years now," explains the former aviation professional who grew up in London.
Yet at just about 10,000 handouts, the figures this Ramadan, hasn't been encouraging compared to the 37,000 handouts Karama Kanteen oversaw last year.
"We try to minimize the costs and maximize the quantities for the companies as much without compromising on the quality. For example if we charge just Dh 16 per packet during a handout be assured, it would cost much more if sold outside commercially," says Samer Harkous, the Lebanese Business Development Executive of City Chef, the catering company that also distributes pre-cooked food to several hypermarkets across the UAE, including Carrefour.
"Our priority still remains those camps where the workers have to pay from their pockets for their food. In that way, they save at least for a meal," adds Lopez.
More and more people though, can't thank the project enough.
"It's a great thing that they are doing for us and we are indeed grateful for the wonderful iftr today for which, I am glad, we don't have to pay," Mohammed Ismail, 28, an Indian labourer told XPRESS at the Al Quoz camp, a venue of a handout this week.
"I was passing by when I saw people lining up , so I joined in and was pleasantly surprised to find a hot meal for iftr. I was going to buy something anyway and it saved me money for one meal," said Bangladeshi worker, Mujibur Rehman, 23 told XPRESS.
Companies or individuals wishing to sponsor a handout can drop in a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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