SIDON, Lebanon: Umm Salim, a widow, refuses to have her iftar meal in a mosque or public hall. She is one of many needy people in Lebanon who would rather others not know that she cannot afford to buy food for herself and her family during the holy month of fasting.But Umm Salim is also one of many needy people who are lucky enough to have the meal – which is eaten after sunset and breaks the daily Ramadan fast – delivered to her home for free every night.
“Thankfully, there is a project to feed the awfully poor, and an iftar meal comes every day,” she told The Daily Star.
Al-Reaaya Organization, one of the foundations of the Islamic Welfare Association, recently launched Ramadan El Kheir 2014, a project that includes a range of programs and activities aimed at bringing joy to poor families in the southern city of Sidon and some towns in the south, primarily by providing iftar meals.
According to media officer Ghassan Hanqir, they distribute iftar meals to 12,700 fasting individuals, food to 1,800 families, new clothes to 2,500 children, presents to 1,000 orphans, hijabs to 150 young girls and of course the Ramadan traditional alms for needy families. Other programs include devotional nights, spiritual activities and Quran-related competitions.
“All this is to bring about Eid al-Fitr [which marks the end of Ramadan] with joy and happiness and provide holiday gifts for our children and families in need,” Hanqir explained.
The project relies on donations and cooperation with charity organizations in Sidon, and is also supported by several foreign organizations from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and France, under the slogan “Providing iftars wherever those fasting are.”
“We found years ago that there was a large group of people in dire need of iftars during Ramadan, but this large group refuses to come to mosques public halls and private lobbies because they are too proud and they don’t want anyone to see them,” Hanqir said.
The organization thus resorts to delivering the meals to their homes instead, to stop them from going hungry during the festive period.
One family meal costs between $10 and $16, Hanqir said, and the organization sometimes offers up to three meals, depending on the size of the family.
The meal itself varies between beef and chicken with rice, and also includes salads – mainly fattoush – in addition to desserts, juices, dates and bread.
“We took it upon ourselves to be of service to these individuals,” he said. “Over 10 employees and 30 volunteers work daily in Al-Rahma’s kitchen to prepare the food.”
Al-Rahma Center is a charity organization in the Sidon suburb of Abra that provides support for orphans and the poor.
On top of cooking for the special deliveries, the staff there also prepare group iftars for the poor and for orphans to be served in mosques and private halls, and often take the children to fast-food restaurants for a special treat.
Al-Rahma Center director Majed Markiz said a number of middle- and upper-class families reserved tables in the halls in Al-Rahma Center and asked the poorer families to join them on their iftar table.
“We receive orphans and children from poor neighborhoods from [the Palestinian refugee camp of] Ain al-Hilweh and Old Sidon’s alleys.”
Laughing, he explained how one of the children had asked to be fed pizzas and hamburgers, before adding, “but please no rice, I have Vietnam growing in my stomach.”
Within Old Sidon, a trolley can be seen going around, filled with meals ready to be distributed to widows and poor families.
“I am a widow and I have five children,” Umm Mahmoud says. “Every day a meal comes to us and thankfully that is enough, and my children also go with Al-Reaaya’s volunteers to fast-food restaurants.”
The mukhtar of the Dekerman neighborhood in Sidon, Mohammad al-Baasiri, said there were hundreds of needy individuals in the city whose names and addresses were given to the organization so they could receive daily meals and aid.
“We are working on all levels with these people, it’s not just about the food,” he stressed.
Baasiri said the level of poverty in the city was on the increase, and that a growing number of families were unable to afford iftar meals.
While none of Sidon’s families had yet resorted to begging on the streets, the presence of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and the economic malaise that has struck neighboring towns has further added to the misery.
After sunset, in one of the many fast-food restaurants in the city, Mohammad Baba rushed to get a table amid swarms of children eager to break their fast, all orphans brought there by Al-Reaaya.
“I wish I could come here every day for iftar!” Baba exclaimed.