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Hot meals on wheels warm up Gazans' hearts in winter Filed on February 9, 2020 | Last updated on February 9, 2020 at 09.48 pm
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In the lead-up to the grand ceremony on February 20 when the Arab world declares its hope maker, we will celebrate the stories of optimism and positivity these unsung heroes have lived.

In occupied Gaza, the average income of an individual can reach $2 (Dh7) a month, hindering families from getting food and basic living supplies. Realising the need for help, three Palestinian youths took to social media last month, urging the community to donate cooking equipment and food items to help them prepare hot meals for the disadvantaged families during the cold winter nights.

The response was astonishing. "As soon as our post went live, many people contacted us to offer equipment, food items and even volunteered to prepare the meals themselves," Mahmoud Khwaiter, one of the volunteers, said.

He said the volunteers got to work the next morning and started off by making lentil soup. A volunteer donated a bus to take the food to families living in disadvantaged areas and that's how the 'food bus' initiative (Bus Dafa in Arabic) started. Within weeks, volunteers grew from just three to over 30, distributing 200-300 meals a day. "We could not believe the pace at which the initiative grew," said Khwaiter. "Food drives usually include packaged fast food items, but what makes our initiative different is that it supplies hot nutritious meals during winter."

According to the International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza, 80 per cent of the two million people living in Gaza receive humanitarian assistance.

Daily operation

Cooking takes place in a private home, with space offered by a donor. Groups of young men and women get together to cook hot meals that vary in choice based on supplies donated that day. "Lentil soup is usually prepared daily - given its popularity during the winter. We sometimes cook chicken and rice, too," said Khwaiter.

He added that each volunteer in the cooking team assumes responsibility to contribute with the food supplies of the day's meal. If some ingredients are missing, the group collects money from each other to get the necessary supplies.

The food is then packaged and placed in the bus to be distributed in disadvantaged and marginalised neighbourhoods from 7pm daily. "We try to keep this initiative open to all volunteers. Sometimes we get an overload of people coming in to help and we request them to come the following day due to lack of space," said Khwaiter.

He added that the overwhelming response has encouraged the team to expand the initiative throughout the year.

The reaction of the families once they receive the food gives the group purpose and meaning. "It drives us to tears sometimes, especially when the bus arrives and children residing in unlivable homes run to see who's visiting. "We don't select the families who receive the food. The moment we arrive at any neighbourhood, people gather around the bus expecting help. It is a beautiful scene that we never film to protect the privacy of families."

How it started

The initiative was inspired by a group of volunteers in Egypt that distributes food to vulnerable families in Cairo and Alexandria. Khwaiter said the idea of 'Bus Dafa' was successful due to its simplicity and practicality. "Everyone gives what they can, even if it's only their efforts and time. The initiative is personally funded and organised, without any official support."

Staff Reporter

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