Said El Mennaouy cannot run his new catering business because of the coronavirus pandemic. In the meantime, he and his friends have decided to feed those in need for free.
“Because a lot of families, they are suffering with food,” El Mennaouy said. “They are no longer working.”
They’re volunteer cooks for East Boston-based Mutual Aid Eastie, which provides free meals to those impacted by the deadly new coronavirus.
East Boston is the second-hardest-hit neighborhood in Boston, and while there are several nonprofits helping its residents, Mutual Aid Eastie founder Dr. Neenah Estrella-Luna realized her Muslim neighbors could not eat food that is not halal, in accordance with Islamic dietary laws.
Estrella-Luna posted a message on social media asking for volunteers to help, and El Mennaouy, who is originally from Morocco, answered in a way she wasn’t expecting.
“All of the meals, all of the prep, all of the labor that went into making 200 meals a week,” Estrella-Luna said. “That was coming out of his own pocket.”
Mutual Aid Easties is working to reimburse the volunteer cooks. Still, the free meals mean a lot for people like Mohamed Medjahed, whose family is struggling with employment.
“I mean, I have to work but reduced hours,” Medjahed said.
The aid is “very nice," he said. "It was very helpful. We need it.”
Teurkia Ghania’s family is facing similar challenges.
“It’s very helpful,” she said. “Sometimes I will think, What am I going to cook for my children?”
The increasing need for food during the pandemic has now brought hundreds of people of different backgrounds, including Muslims and non-Muslims, to East Boston’s YMCA for the free halal food.
“We buy the ingredients and we start cooking for the whole community,” El Mennaouy said. “Every Tuesday and Friday we cook, like, sometimes 200, sometimes 160 plates.”
Because of volunteers like El Mennaouy and his friends, Mutual Aid Eastie is able to feed about 300 families a week in and around East Boston.
May was also the majority of Ramadan, a holiday that requires Muslims to fast from morning to sundown, leaving many with less energy.
Mennaouy said the kindness Americans have shown him since immigrating to the U.S. from Morocco keeps him going.
“The time has arrived to give back to the community,” he said.