NORTH MANKATO — After a second round of executive orders led to the closure of the new J’s Sambusa, its owner found a philanthropic partner to help the restaurant distribute thousands of free meals each day.
Jamila Ibrahim brought a taste of her homeland to the region in July, opening a restaurant in North Mankato serving Somali cuisine. A few months later, she and other restaurateurs were ordered to close indoor restaurants.
Now, instead of just selling takeout, J’s Sambusa distributes meals to any family in need.
Only one question is asked each morning when vehicles pull up in front of the restaurant at 503 Belgrade Ave. : “How many children?”
A restaurant employee walks inside and returns moments later with a hot lunch as well as a cold breakfast for the next day.
Monday’s lunch of chicken, rice and vegetables was similar to what can be found on the J’s Sambusa menu. Other days there are American classics like chicken nuggets and fries.
To keep the line moving and minimize container waste, lunches are pre-prepared in trays of four to five servings. Large families receive two trays; small families might have leftovers.
For each child there is also a bag with cereals and fruit. On Mondays and Thursdays, a gallon of milk is also given away.
There are no eligibility criteria or strict accounting of lunch portions.
Parents can come as often as they need help putting food on their table, says Asad Abshir, who oversees distributions seven days a week.
The goal is to help feed children while they learn at home. But parents can also take advantage of the free lunches. And people can request extra portions to share with neighbors who don’t have a way to get to the restaurant themselves, Abshir said.
A Minneapolis-based organization called Stigma Free provides the food and pays the dozen J’s Sambusa employees who help Abshir and Ibrahim prepare and distribute the food.
When Ibrahim learned that the organization was looking for distribution partners, she said she decided it would be a good opportunity to give back to her community.
Ibrahim is in no rush to reopen to paying customers as soon as the indoor dining restriction is lifted. She would rather like to continue the partnership with Stigma Free.
No end date for the free food distributions has been decided, Abshir said. It began in mid-December and will continue at least until area schools welcome children back into their buildings.
School districts are also offering free sack breakfasts and lunches at select sites during distance learning, with pre-registration required. Distribution at J’s Sambusa offers another barrier-free option, Abshir said.
At J’s Sambusa, Abshir said they distribute around 600 meal trays, serving up to 3,000 people a day. They open at 9am and go until the food is gone – usually around 12.30pm
All leftovers are donated to Mankato organizations that serve people without homes.