x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE residents rally to give gift of iftar

Companies are stepping up during Ramadan to help feed workers.

DUBAI // At Food Street, there will be no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen this Ramadan.

The catering company, in collaboration with LivingSocial, expects to prepare and distribute about 1,000 iftar boxes for labourers every day of the Holy Month - and the team is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach.

"All the staff will be helping in the kitchen, even me," said Kishwar Jabaen, an events planner for Food Street.

The company, which distributed more than 5,000 iftar meals last year, allows donors to buy a box for Dh24, a contribution that will then be matched by LivingSocial, a website that offers discounts on everything from dining out to holidays.

Each box will contain chicken biryani, a yogurt dip, a samosa, pakora, mint dip, dates, fruit, a cupcake, juice and water.

"People are ready and eager to help," said Russ Morgan, the marketing manager for LivingSocial Middle East. "Ramadan is the time for giving, so this campaign really just makes sense."

Donors will also have the opportunity to participate in person and help distribute the meals during a one-day volunteer drive in August.

During Ramadan, a month of charity and generosity, residents of all nationalities and religions come together to support the poor and less fortunate.

"I am always blown away by how people stand shoulder-to-shoulder to help out," said Saher Shaikh, the founder of Adopt-A-Camp, which will distribute 5,000 Ramadan care packages this year.

"You see Emiratis next to Indians next to Eastern Europeans next to Americans, all working together. It is just amazing."

One night next month, Ms Shaikh and her team of volunteers will partner with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce to assemble and package thousands of what the founder calls "hefty care packages".

Each includes a three-month supply of toiletries, energy food for one month, pillows, bed linens, socks and plates. Sponsors can purchase packages for Dh125, and volunteers of all ages are invited to take part.

"The idea is to give these men a new lease on life," Ms Saher said. "I can go and shampoo their hair myself, but it does not make a difference if they just go back and lie on the same dirty linens."

Adopt-A-Camp works year-round to improve the quality of life of labourers and works with government agencies and other organisations to provide hygiene workshops, scholarships and vocational classes.

The Ramadan campaign will also accept volunteers until August 9, the day before distribution begins.

At Volunteer in Dubai, a last-minute snag in the plan to deliver 12,000 iftar meals to workers left campaigners scrambling to find sponsorships, but the group managed to sign up at least 17 labour camps to the initiative.

"Hundreds upon hundreds of people will be getting involved," said Lola Lopez, founder of Volunteer in Dubai.

Donors can buy vouchers for Dh30, good for two meals, and catering company City Chef will prepare the food, which will probably be distributed every other night in Sharjah, Al Quoz and Sonapur.

Ms Lopez said the campaign sought out camps where the food would make the most impact, a trend across all the iftar initiatives.

"Maybe the employer does not have a big budget, and they want their men to be taken care of," said Ms Shaikh, from Adopt-A-Camp.

Typically companies provide regular meals to their workers, but the quality and quantity varies wildly depending on the size and resources of the contractor.

"We are working with camp managers to make sure we are targeting the labourers who need us the most," Mr Morgan said.

LivingSocial pledged more than 10,000 meals in the first week of the offer.

jthomas@thenational.ae