One single Ramadan Fridge in Dubai hands out more than 850 iftar packs to the city’s workers each night at the moment. The packs are put together by residents of the neighbourhood daily throughout the holy month. They rely solely on donated food, drink and time.
For the last two years, public relations professional Kelly Harvarde and her photographer husband, Alex Jeffries, have had a Ramadan Fridge outside their Jumeirah One home. However, the work they do now far surpasses what can fit in a fridge, which is now mostly stocked with just water.
Harvarde now describes the fridge as more of a “metaphor” or “beacon” for the effort to feed members of the local community.
Every day, along with their neighbours, Harvarde and her family hand out pre-made iftar packs to local workers. Volunteers arrive each night from about 5pm, ready to hand out meals to the queue of people that then forms down the street.
"We make the packs ourselves, all of the neighbours help and work together to make the packs and sometimes strangers come to help," Havarde tells The National. "We realised this was an easier way to get more food to more people. Just putting food in the fridge was a little bit limiting, we had so many people coming we couldn't cope with the demand unless we made the packs."
Many of Harvarde’s neighbours are involved with the effort, with three generations of family members helping out; there are children as young as four or five and people from more than 13 countries pitching in, including the UK, the UAE, Thailand, France and Tunisia.
What goes into a pack?
Each bag has a packet of instant noodles, fresh fruit, biscuits, a bottle of water and a carton of juice or laban.
A bulk of the bags are prepared to be ready for the 5.30pm pre-iftar rush. Havarde tells us that with word about the fridge getting out, more and more people come each day. On May 19, halfway through Ramadan, the community handed out 852 packs in one night, and had fed more than 12,000 people so far this year.
With more people coming daily, a large part of the evening effort is packing packs to feed people as they continue to arrive as iftar approaches. A conveyor line of volunteers assembles, with people fetching boxes, opening bags, filling packs and piling them up to be handed out.
Fatima Masoud Alawadhi, a 21-year-old Dubai-based finance student, seems to be in charge of the bag packing when we visit. "When we run out, we have to make more packs, we don't want to let people go home [empty handed] if there is a shortage."
The community spirit of Ramadan
When we ask why they got involved with the effort, Nada Masoud, sister to Fatima, has a succinct answer, “Because of Kelly, our beautiful neighbour!”
“She gathers us all together, we help each other as one community,” Nada, who is also a finance student, adds. For her, Ramadan is “four weeks, with people gathering to fast and eat together, it’s a month of prayers and community … Often, people’s busy lives get in the way, but during Ramadan people make time to see each other and spend time together.”
“I have been participating in this Ramadan fridge for two years, and inshallah, more,” her sister Fatima adds. “It is part of our duty to help others. We feed around 700 to 800 workers per day, that is 700 to 800 smiles per day.”
“We don’t only do this during Ramadan, we continue giving out meals to those in need 12 months of the year, but Ramadan brings people together,” she concludes.
Tourists getting involved as well
One of the most surprising volunteer stories we heard was that of 29-year-old, Sofia Hamoum. French aviation worker, Hamoum is currently on holiday in the UAE but saw the Ramadan Fridge’s Facebook group and noticed a post from Harvarde, which she decided to respond to, donating both time and food to the packs.
"I [volunteer] in Paris, and I had some time free while in Dubai, so I wanted to use it wisely," Paris-based Hamoum tells The National. She hopes to find a job and move to the UAE in the near future. "I am Muslim and I am fasting, so for me this is a month of giving and sharing, that is very important to me. It's also important to see the smiles of other people and to share this experience with them."