Local heroes: 'I help Canada now,' says restaurant owner offering free food to struggling Calgarians
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Firas Gabbreen is trying to take care of struggling Calgarians, one shawarma at a time.
In the front window of Mix Grill Shawarma, Gabbreen's shop on 17th Avenue S.W., hangs a sign that reads: "Free meals to needy. If you lost your job/can't afford food (free).
"If you are struggling to make ends meet please let us know how we can help."
It's a generous gesture at a time when most small, independent businesses are hurting financially. Gabbreen estimates up to a dozen people a day are taking him up on the offer.
"Canada help me for the last five years, so I help Canada now," he said.
'Canada … the best country'
Gabbreen came to Canada from Jordan five years ago.
He said Canadians have been so good to him he felt compelled to do something when people began losing their jobs en masse.
"I need [to] help people of Canada … the best country."
Gabbreen's not confident with his English, so he enlisted the help of his close friend Ahmad Dawud to talk about the free food.
Dawud, who used to own the shawarma shop and now runs a business next door, said they don't ask why people need a free meal but sometimes an explanation is offered.
"They're just basically going from paycheque to paycheque, they're waiting for money to come in, they can't have ends meet, whatever the case might be. We understand people are having a tough time nowadays," Dawud said.
'He organized a meal for me'
On Friday afternoon, Lucas Murphy took Gabbreen up on the offer of a free lunch.
Murphy doesn't have a job and said he's struggling financially right now.
"He's very nice," said Murphy, holding his chicken shawarma and cream soda.
"We met outside, he organized a meal for me … I appreciate it."
Gabbreen said people can order anything off the menu and always insists on giving away a beverage as well.
'What goes around comes around'
Often, people are so shocked with the offer of a free meal, Dawud said they aren't sure it's true until they walk out the door without being chased down.
"They're like, 'Oh my God, this is very sweet,' and they come back and say, 'Thank you so much we appreciate it.'"
Both Dawud and Gabbreen said they understand these are frightening times and are hopeful they can help alleviate the uncertainty that comes from wondering where your next meal is coming from.
"Me and [Gabbreen] come from the same background," said Dawud.
"At the end of the day this is what we believe in, what goes around comes around."