Free meals distributed during Ramadan | “Here, we are like one big family”

During Ramadan, an army of volunteers cooks and distributes 1,200 free meals every day to members of the Muslim community in a Montreal restaurant.




For one month each year, Meryem Zemouri does not sleep at home. The mother instead sleeps in a small apartment, a stone’s throw from her husband’s restaurant, rue Jean-Talon Est.

This is because the task awaiting her requires that she go there several times a day. Early, from 7 a.m., then very late in the day, at 10:30 p.m., sometimes until 3 a.m.

PHOTO DOMINICK GRAVEL, THE PRESS

For four years now, Meryem Zemouri has requisitioned her husband’s restaurant for a month, during Ramadan, to distribute hundreds of free meals to members of the Muslim community in Montreal.

She sees her children when they come home at supper time. If living apart from them weighs on her, nothing seems to matter. During this month, they know that she “gives up everything”.

This month is Ramadan.

More than two billion Muslims around the world observe intermittent fasting, from sunrise to sunset, to commemorate the revelation of the Koran received by the Prophet Muhammad.

The mission that Meryem Zemouri and an army of volunteers gave themselves, in Montreal, every day of this sacred month which takes place this year from March 10 to April 9: to feed as many of them as possible.

PHOTO DOMINICK GRAVEL, THE PRESS

Rue Jean-Talon Est, you can quickly guess the location of the restaurant Le Goût du Bled by seeing the queue stretching in front of the establishment.

Which is why she cooks 1,200 free meals every day for a month which are distributed at her husband’s restaurant, Le Goût du Bled, in the Petit Maghreb.

PHOTO DOMINICK GRAVEL, THE PRESS

Every day during Ramadan, the line of customers stretches in front of Le Goût du Bled, rue Jean-Talon Est, so much so that volunteers are needed outside to coordinate the distribution.

“The month of Ramadan is for me”

Already involved in making Christmas baskets for the most deprived, this businesswoman who operates daycare centers in Verdun explains that she had the idea for this large-scale distribution when her husband wanted to open a restaurant.

“I told him: the month of Ramadan is for me. We forget ourselves, we don’t work. I have always dreamed since I was young of feeding people in need during this holy month. »

PHOTO DOMINICK GRAVEL, THE PRESS

For one month, 1,200 free meals are distributed every day at the restaurant Le Goût du Bled, in the Petit Maghreb, in Montreal.

Students, single or poor people: the queue stretches every evening in front of the business on rue Jean-Talon Est, where it is difficult to count the satisfied customers as there seem to be so many of them, all the way to the bus shelter , handmade brown paper bags.

Inside, a typically Algerian menu, Meryem Zemouri’s country of origin, where Ramadan is a social event.

PHOTO DOMINICK GRAVEL, THE PRESS

Boureks, small rolls of puff pastry with meat and cheese

That day, as a starter, it was chorba, an Algerian meat and chickpea soup. For the meal, customers are offered tagines accompanied by a salad. All complemented by a bourek, a puff pastry roll with meat and cheese, an essential Ramadan dish.

A titanic task

From 250 to 500 meals per day, the distribution at Goût du Bled has grown rapidly over the years, thanks to community donors.

“We have zero help from associations, the State, or anything. It is between us, Muslims, that we help each other, explains Meryem Zemouri. There are some who bring meat, others make transfers and with that, we buy the packaging. Suppliers give to us, stores too. »

But the task is titanic. Luckily, Meryem Zemouri can count on many volunteers who liven up the restaurant like an anthill every day.

Maria Amokrane, who presents herself as an influencer of the Algerian community in Canada, is one of these volunteers. Coming for the first time to meet some of her subscribers in front of Le Goût du Bled, she was quickly caught up in the good-natured and buzzing atmosphere that reigns in the packed business.

PHOTO DOMINICK GRAVEL, THE PRESS

Maria Amokrane helps distribute dishes at Goût du Bled.

While she finds it difficult to work and study while fasting all day, “being here makes time pass faster.” “We are 7,700 kilometers from Algeria and it feels strange to do Ramadan far from the family, but here, we are like one big family,” she confides.

From distress

Because Ramadan is also an opportunity to get together as a family, confirms Nassim Andjouh, met in front of Le Goût du Bled. “In Algeria, Ramadan is everywhere, it’s really different compared to other days,” he adds.

PHOTO DOMINICK GRAVEL, THE PRESS

Nassim Andjouh

At a time when food banks are overwhelmed – one of them even requested the presence of the police last month in the Parc-Extension district, because stampedes occurred during a food distribution –, Meryem Zemouri confirms the insatiable demand for its free meals.

“I tell you: we make 1,200 meals and there are always people who come and who we have to tell that there are no more left. It’s difficult, people can’t find work, no housing,” she says.

An impression confirmed by the queue which stretches, like every evening of Ramadan, in front of Le Goût du Bled.

Learn more

  • 365 675
    Number of people residing in Greater Montreal who declare themselves to be Muslim

    source: Statistics Canada


reference: www.lapresse.ca

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