People prepare free takeaway meals in Cairo, Egypt, on May 15, 2020. "Your free meal is ready. Take it and eat at home," reads a large sign placed in a street of Dar el-Salam neighborhood in Cairo, encouraging poor people to take away free food for Iftar, the fast breaking meals, during the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan. (Xinhua/Ahmed Gomaa)
CAIRO, May 19 (Xinhua) -- "Your free meal is ready. Take it and eat at home," reads a large sign placed in a street of Dar el-Salam neighborhood in Cairo, encouraging poor people to take away free food for Iftar, the fast breaking meals, during the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The charitable move aims to replace traditional street charity banquets held by well-to-do people for the poor during the Ramadan, which are currently banned by the government to stop all kinds of gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"I used to hold street charity banquets every day during Ramadan over the past 17 years," said 55-year-old contractor Sayyid Abdel-Rahman.
"But this year, we had to replace them with takeaway free meals to maintain the charitable tradition and comply with the government's measures at the same time," Abdel-Rahman added, who provides free Iftar meals with the help of his siblings.
During the Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk. So the free Iftar meals have to be distributed a while before sunset.
Abdel-Rahman hires professional chefs every year to cook 80 to 100 kg of beef, about 100 kg of rice and similar amounts of vegetables to offer hundreds of Iftar meals every day.
"Egypt is full of charitable people, and we all should support one another and back our country in times of crises," he added, stressing that he will continue helping the people in his neighborhood until the COVID-19 crisis is over.
A similar move is made in Maadi affluent district in southern Cairo by an Egyptian businessman who has been holding daily street charity banquets during Ramadan for about two decades. He replaced them with daily takeaway Iftar meals this year.
"After the ban of street banquets, I chose to prepare the meals as I did every year, but give them to my guests and they can enjoy the food at their homes or workplaces," said 52-year-old Samy Mohamed.
Previously during the Ramadan, tens of people would gather under a big tent in front of Mohamed's house where they enjoyed various kinds of food, beverages and desserts.
"Most of them are really in need. So I simply cannot abandon them during this holy month of charity," the businessman told Xinhua.
He distributes three sizes of meal boxes: a small one that is enough for one person, a medium one for two people and a large one for three or four people.
"A large family can take more than one box," Mohamed said.
Most of the poor people who come to pick up their free Iftar meals used to be frequent visitors of the Ramadan street charity banquets, including day laborers.
Ahmed Nassar, a 41-year-old construction worker, came to Mohamed's house to get his free Iftar family box. He used to come with his wife and children to the banquet held in this place during the Ramadan for several years.
"I have five children and the oldest is 14. These free meals helped my family during Ramadan after I stopped working because of the spread of the coronavirus," the man said.
Some civil society organizations also do their part to support the poor during the special month.
One of these organizations is Lebaladna Development Foundation, founded in 2006 by Nawal el-Degwi, the founder of October University for Modern Sciences and Arts (MSA) in Giza province near Cairo.
For 14 years, Lebaladna volunteers, mostly students or graduates from MSA University, have been cooking free Iftar meals during the Ramadan in the campus' kitchen, packing them in the outdoor food court to distribute to the poor in nearby places or send to other relevant organizations.
"We all are volunteers and we don't get paid at all," said Seif Hashem, Lebaladna's human resources manager.
"This year, due to the spread of COVID-19, we are distributing 30,000 food bags as well as 30,000 meals to the needy during Ramadan," the young man told Xinhua while preparing the meals at the cafeteria.