The soup kitchen Khana Ghar in Karachi, Pakistan has been feeding hot meals to about 3,000 people a day for nearly 20 years.
But with increased demand because of the pandemic, the kitchen is being pushed to its limits.
The kitchen charges a token amount for each meal so that customers feel like they’ve earned it and “their self-respect remains intact.”
A soup kitchen in Karachi, Pakistan, has been selling hot meals at reduced prices for nearly 20 years.
And now, in a country where 40% of the population lives below the poverty line, it has become a lifeline to thousands of struggling families during the pandemic.
At Khana Ghar, which translates to Food House, the day begins with workers rolling out dough to prepare a traditional bread called tandoori roti, which is baked in a clay oven. At lunchtime, the soup kitchen welcomes those who need a meal.
But the food is not totally free — Khana Ghar charges a token amount of 3 rupees per person, according to Parveen Saeed, who started the kitchen, which does not take a profit.
“The only logic behind it is that people are at least buying the food they are eating, so their self-respect remains intact,” Saeed said. “When you give free food, people stop working. They think ‘I’m getting free food for my family, and now they won’t go hungry,’ but when they buy it for 3 rupees, they will still work hard, earn the money, and feel like they are legitimately providing for their family.”
Saeed launched Khana Ghar back in 2002 after she moved to Surjani Town, a low-income neighborhood in Karachi.
A journalist by profession, she started to feed the poor after a tragic incident shook her world — a story of a local mother who killed her two children who she had been unable to feed.
“I asked her, why did you kill them?” Saeed said. “And she said one sentence: ‘If your kids were hungry, you would kill them too.’ That sentence can change your life, and it certainly changed mine.”
Since then, Parveen made it her goal to eradicate hunger in Pakistan, which ranks 94th out of 117 countries on the Global Hunger Index. Nearly 20% of the population is undernourished. This year Khana Ghar opened a second branch in Karachi, a city of 16 million, and is feeding residents like Mohammad Yameen who live in dire poverty.
“It takes me 30 minutes to get here. I walk here. I don’t even have shoes, but thank God this place is here,” Yameen said. “They take good care of me.”
On a good day, Yameen earns 50 rupees, or 30 cents, selling plastic chairs.
But he has six children and is the only breadwinner in the family. He told us that his wife recently died from complications of COVID-19.
“I called the doctor, I called the ambulance, but my wife died in my arms,” he said. “I am telling you the truth that I’ve really suffered.”
Even death is costly these days, Yameen added, saying you need around 50,000 rupees to afford a proper funeral and burial.
Even during this trying time, Yameen says he can always count on a hot meal at Khana Ghar.
But the kitchen is being pushed to it limits. It usually serves about 3,000 people a day, but in June, at the height of the pandemic in Pakistan, over 5,000 people showed up every day.
Saeed said she started taking extra safety measures during that time.
“People said you’re putting your life in danger, but we took all the precautions,” she said. “We wore masks, gloves, sanitized, sprayed, and maintained social distance.”
But she said that despite the challenges the soup kitchen did not stop serving food. “Poor people were telling us we will not die of the coronavirus, but what will eventually kill us is hunger,” Saeed said.
With nearly 6,000 deaths in a population of 230 million people, experts say Pakistan has been spared the worst. The lockdown has mostly been lifted, and life is slowly going back to normal.
But hunger still persists. And although Parveen says that she’s trying to do her best to help, it’s not always enough.
“This is not the solution. It’s just not,” she said. “The solution is that food prices have to go down. We need to create more jobs. People need to be able to live with respect.”
Read the original article on Business Insider