Edmonton

'It's heartbreaking': Mill Woods restaurant owner helps people in need with free meals

Two Edmonton businessmen have teamed up to offer free meals to anyone in need.

Since April 10, Dil-E-Punjab has helped feed hundreds of people free meals 

Two Edmonton businessmen have teamed up to feed anyone who needs help, no questions asked. 1:12

​​​​​Imran Javaid is serving free meals to anyone who is struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Throughout the month of April, Javaid and local businessman Varinder Bhullar are teaming up to provide free food with no questions asked. 

"We started on Friday and within a week, we helped hundreds of people," said Bhullar, who was at the restaurant welcoming people through the door for their pick-up orders last week.  

Bhullar met Javaid through mutual friends and has relied on Javaid's restaurant, Dil-E-Punjab, to help cater some of his business events. 

Varinder Bhullar, left, and Imran Javaid are giving away meals from Javaid's restaurant, Dil-E-Punjab. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

Bhullar said he started noticing people struggling with the COVID-19 lockdown early in April, especially people who didn't have enough money for food while they waited for financial help from the government. 

"It's heartbreaking when someone says, 'I just could not afford to eat,'" Bhullar said. He is president of Green Scholars of Alberta, an Edmonton non-profit organization that runs summer camps for kids to learn more about their Punjabi and Gujarati cultural roots. 

"We all have to hang in there together and make sure we stick together and help each other," Bhullar said. 

News of the free meals has slowly gained momentum online. 

A worker at Dil-E-Punjab makes roti in the kitchen. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

'I hope they keep this up'

Norman Weinrich is currently unemployed. He said he came with his two sons from northeast Edmonton to pick up meals for his family.

"This is a pretty bad time," said Weinrich, who is waiting for financial aid from the government. "I'm actually amazed that everybody's actually standing together. Bless them. I hope they keep this up. It would be very nice."

Javaid's restaurant was initially closed during the lockdown for renovations but after hearing Bhullar's idea, he finished the work and served the first free meals on April 10.  
 
"We try to help them because they don't have the job, they don't have money," said Javaid, who opened his restaurant eight years ago on Mill Woods Road East and 15th Avenue. "Lots of them are students, lots of them are seniors. That's why we try to help them."

People who want meals have to text Javaid or Bhullar before 4 p.m. each day. The orders are then cooked and people pick up their food between 6 and 7 p.m.

So far, they've served from 25 to 50 meals each day. 

The menu changes daily but routinely consists of Indian and Pakistani vegetarian dishes.

This isn't the first time Dil-E-Punjab has offered up its cuisine.  

Javaid said his restaurant fed people fleeing the massive Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016. 

"No one should sleep hungry, everyone should have the right to food," said Bhullar, who plans to provide free meals until the end of the month.