“There is plenty of time to make profits, this is the time to be helping people.”
That is the message of a Dubai restaurant owner, who has spent the past week handing out free meals to those hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak.
Between Shahbaz Qureshi and his team of 84 staff, more than 1,000 free meals have been given out to those in need; from workers who have lost their jobs, to those stranded due to travel restrictions.
Qureshi is the owner of Hazara Group, which runs four restaurants in Dubai’s International City. When he heard people were struggling to afford food as a result of the ongoing crisis, he decided to step in to help.
“A few of the staff told me that they were hearing about people who did not have any money and were stuck here unable get back to their home countries. Some people were selling their items, one guy who came was selling his mobile phone. When I heard that, I sat down with my team and we discussed what we can do to help,” he says.
After brainstorming, the teams from Mawwal, Dolphina, Hazara Darbar and Al Fareej Kitchen, came up with a plan to spread the word that those who could not afford food could contact them for a free meal.
“We are from an industry that is a basic need. Food is a basic need for everyone, and we can help. We can play our role,” he says.
The restaurants all serve Pakistani cuisine, and where possible, the team are trying to give people a choice of dish. Most of the meals prepared so far have been chicken served with rice, or bread and sauce.
Qureshi, 35, spread the word about the initiative through WhatsApp, trying to reach people in the restaurant’s immediate area. But, like all things on social media, the message spread much further than he was anticipating, resulting in him being contacted by people from as far as Abu Dhabi, Ajman and Sharjah.
“We cannot reach all of these people, even though we would want to. We are just concentrating on our local area. We only have a team of 10 delivery drivers, so we are limiting delivery to 12 areas,” he says.
Those areas include International City Phase 1 and 2, Dubai Silicon Oasis, Queue Point Liwan and Ras Al Khor. They are also specifying who qualifies for meals.
They will deliver to anyone who came to Dubai to find a job and is now unable to return home due to flight restrictions, those who have lost their jobs, or those who already have jobs, but are currently without salaries because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
“I will cover my area,” he says. “And if the community stands together, someone else will cover their area, and someone else will cover theirs, and like this we can help so many more people.
"We are not able to help 10,000 people, but we are doing what we can. If you can afford to, it doesn’t matter if you help one person, or 100 people, we want to encourage everyone to come together to help. This is not a time to be thinking of ourselves and our profits, this is a time to think of others.”
In Abu Dhabi, a similar scheme has been launched by Filipino restaurant Al Breem, based in Al Dhafrah. On Sunday, the restaurant began spreading the word about its IfinEAT initiative, delivering free meals to those in the capital struggling to afford food.
In a post on Facebook, the restaurant said, "Our Team is busy cooking food and transporting them to the needy [since] the UAE rolled out its ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ campaign. Tag your friends who need to see this."
Like Hazara Group, the restaurant has specified that the free food is for those who have lost work because of the crisis, those who have had salaries delayed by two months, or those who have become stranded in the country.
“There is a virus, there is a disease, and so many people are affected. People are going without their basic needs, and if we do not help each other now, another crisis could happen,” Qureshi adds.
“We feel so motivated by this initiative and we are just throwing all of our energy into it. This is much bigger than us and now is the time to take action. I urge other people to do the same.”