ABU DHABI // With a big smile, taxi driver Sharafu Deen held his dinner pack crammed full of sandwiches, salad, fruit and water.
Mr Deen was among thousands of cabbies in the UAE to receive a free iftar pack from Starwood Group hotels last night as part of their annual Iftar for Cabs project.
"I am looking forward to eating the orange the most," said the Pakistani expatriate, 35, as he peeked inside the pack he had collected at Le Royal Meridien.
"It is my favourite fruit. Of course, I am looking forward to drinking the water, too. I will be very grateful for that."
Queues of taxis snaked around Le Royal Meridien just before 6pm. The programme aims to thank cab drivers who work tirelessly throughout the year to provide transport to the hotels' guests.
The drivers were met by hotel staff at the entrance. They were all carrying armfuls of the food packages.
"We have come to get the iftar food," said Laiqjan, 30, a driver with Emirates Taxis. "We think it is a very good thing."
Looking at the pack, which contained bananas and oranges, juice, water, salad, sandwiches and chicken wrapped in pitta bread, he said he was looking forward to breaking his fast.
"It all looks very good," said Shazhan Ali, 47, of National Taxis.
All of the 230 meal packs at Le Royal Meridien were handed out within minutes.
Doyan Miham, 22, said he was grateful to Starwood. "It is a very good thing they are doing."
Wakeel Han, 24, of Cars Taxis, said his friend had told him about the free meal.
"We think it is a very nice thing of them to do," Mr Han said. "We are working for them during the year and we give them service, so it is nice they want to do something like this."
Humayan Kabir, 40, of Al Ghazal Taxis, described the event as "like a party for taxi drivers".
The meal packs were also distributed at the main entrances of Aloft, Le Meridien, the Sheraton Hotel and Resort, St Regis Saadiyat Island and Westin Golf Resort and Spa an hour before iftar.
"This is a great initiative to be part of, admiring the hard work and appreciating the valuable services offered by the cab drivers during the extreme weather conditions," said Shaun Parsons, general manager of Le Royal Meridien.
"I guess it is one of the small contributions we can make. Taxi drivers generally in the Middle East do a lot of hard work, which often does not get recognised, and a lot of them are Muslims so we think it is a good way of really giving back."
Mr Parsons said the hotel wanted to increase the number of Iftar for Cabs events next year.
In the Middle East, 34 Starwood hotels, including the recently opened Sheraton Dubai Mall of the Emirates Hotel, joined in the programme.
Guido de Wilde, senior vice president and director of the Starwood Hotels and Resorts in the Middle East, said the purpose was to give something back to drivers who struggled to find time to break their fast.
"Once again our initiative goes from strength to strength and I am humbled that more and more of our hotels are choosing to take part every year," Mr de Wilde said.