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Last April, Dil-E-Punjab started to offer about 35 free meals a day for anyone who was hungry, no questions asked. Now, the restaurant hands out 100 meals daily, and over the last year it has provided a total of 32,000 meals.
The only request from Dil-E-Punjab is people wanting a free meal let the restaurant know in advance.
“It’s all simple, regular food rotated. Some kind of dahl, chana masala, naan, rice. Every day we have a different menu,” manager Sufyan Asif said.
“All of the people, they send us blessings, (they may not) have any job right now, or don’t have any food, and they have a family of four or five people.
“They are very thankful.”
The cost of the meals are partially covered by community donations and provincial government assistance.
Varinder Bhullar has been helping with the initiative through his non-profit organization, Green Scholars of Alberta. He recalls one woman who asked to meet him at the restaurant; he thought she needed a meal, but instead she handed him an envelope.
“She said, ‘I didn’t and I came here to get help, and now I have a job, and I feel that I should help,’” Bhullar said.
“People are not only here to get (a free meal), but they are also here to help.”
The giving goes beyond the restaurant. Bhullar said other organizations, restaurants and community members have reached out to help.
Christina Usborne met Bhullar while volunteering at the Old Strathcona Peace Camp last summer. After it was closed, she wanted to continue to help, so the two partnered together.
Through donations from residents and other restaurants, she now delivers over 100 meals a week to people who are experiencing homelessness.
“I had been in this situation myself with homelessness,” Usborne said.
“I just feel that everybody deserves to eat, and have a helping hand, and I can make a difference in a small way and help provide meals to a few people.
“It’s a 100 more people that are fed every week.”
Usborne started a group on Facebook called Our Initiative to collect donations, and post updates.
“People are going a week, two weeks without any food at all, so feeding people is important,” she said.
The hope is one day there will no longer be a need, but as long as people are hungry, Bhullar wants to help.
“It tells me there is a lot of poverty out there, a lot of hunger. A lot of people working that are on benefits but not enough to survive,” he said.